Why targeting has damaged the Party

Editor’s Note: This article previously made reference to the alleged actions of an unidentified member of party staff. This reference has been removed on the request of that member of staff. Lib Dem Voice has apologised for its original inclusion – we have always sought to avoid such references on the site but our small team of volunteer editors overlooked it on this occasion


My fellow colleague kicked off a fascinating debate on how the Party might progress on Sunday. Amongst the comments was a contribution from Michael Meadowcroft which, according to one of our readers, deserved to be expanded upon. It’s a bit longer than our normal pieces, but I hope that it will be thought-provoking. Mark

I have a fellow feeling for Paul Holmes as another of the handful of Liberals who have gained seats from Labour, but it is perverse in his situation for him to defend targeting. I have acknowledged that it arguably works once in the ruthless way it has been carried out for twenty-five years with the diminishing and lethal returns we saw last year. It is a risk to execute targeting even once but the result in 1997 arguably justified its inception. It is the continuance of the strategy that has been disastrous. Indeed the evidence of its failure is visible in that the same seats have to be targeted election after election because we have been unable to build self-supporting organisations in those seats. How then can we rely only on this strategy to win a wide swathe of seats towards a majority in the House of Commons?

By definition, once we have no campaigning in a majority of seats our organisation atrophies and we lose the deliverers, canvassers and all the local workers in those seats. Then, at the following election, the number of workers available to go to target seats dwindles away and the strategy doesn’t even work for target seats. Today, in the eight constituencies making up the City of Leeds, there is no Liberal Democrat activity at all in seven of them – including my old constituency – except for a few outlying wards in which we have a single councillor left or a recent City Council presence. My efforts to revive West Leeds were opposed and wrecked.

Nor did Paul Holmes success in Chesterfield stem from targeting; it was the consequence of the by-election there in 1984 when the Liberal vote leapt from 19.5% to 35%. This was followed up by Tony Rogers who, over thirteen years, pushed the vote up to 40%. Chesterfield could have been won on its own merits, without targeting, as long as the party’s national standing was high enough. What is more, targeting could not save Chesterfield in 2010 – even before the electoral effect of the coalition! The scale of the failure of targeting is best seen in Wales where, for the first time ever, there is no Liberal MP!

Paul gives the game away by mentioning “Cleggmania” in 2010. The party had already ceased to be a viable national party so that, by 2010, when our national poll rating leapt by 10% after the first leaders’ debate, we were incapable of capitalising on it in more than a few seats. That surge just dissipated because of our lack of organisation across the country. The same is the case now with the post-referendum increase in members. The party is not in any position to draw them in and to energise them into a powerful political party.

There are two other important points in relation to target seats themselves. In Leeds North West there was an increase of 16% in the electorate in the last few days. It is said that many were students. Inevitably most will have come to Leeds from constituencies where we had no presence and, therefore, they had no background in voting Liberal Democrat. They voted Labour and Greg Mulholland was doomed. The same effect was probably the case in Sheffield Hallam. By contrast, we did well in the five contiguous seats in South West London where Liberal Democrat activity in the whole area created a broader awareness of the party’s presence and its wider appeal.

I am not arguing against there being “special” seats to which “spare” activity is directed. This is what happened in West Leeds prior to victory in 1983, but we always urged colleagues to be active in all the constituencies around us. First, this tied up more of the other parties’ activity and, second, it gave us a much greater presence in the local media, which helped us. But many Liberals wanted to help ensure victory by giving us their extra time – and it worked.

Finally, targeting, as currently practised, is a fraud on the electors and sheer hypocrisy. The party puts candidates willy-nilly into seats without them having any connection with the area and knowing there will be no campaigning there. Then it proclaims the party is fighting (almost) every seat and it publishes the list of candidates. No approach to such a candidate from media or even a voter will get a worthwhile response. It is a complete pretence and we ought to be ashamed of it. Liberalism deserves better.

Can I turn briefly to Lorenzo Cherin and Katherine Pindar who queried my emphasis on “values before policy” in today’s political circumstances. It may well be more difficult today but the besetting sin of the party in modern times is the reliance on hyper activity and millions of Focus leaflets, neither of which will serve to build a self-supporting political party. We are always trying to go directly for votes rather than finding those of a Liberal attitude who, if recruited and imbued with the values, will be committed enough to go out and win the voters at large. Politics is of necessity a two stage operation and it is impossible to baptise the electorate with a hose pipe! There are – palpably few maybe – instinctive Liberals in every area. Our task is to direct our appeal to them, via more serious material which sets out what a Liberal society is like and enables them to identify with being a Liberal. Then with even a small but committed team, it is possible to build towars an election campaign.

It is salutary to connect with Paul Holmes reference to the meeting we were both at recently in Mid-Derbyshire. I was contacted by a member in that constituency. He told me that he had joined the party at the time of the referendum but he did not know what he had joined! He had been told that I might come to a meeting in Mid-Derbyshire to set out what the party was and what its history and values were. Of course, I was happy to do so. There were some thirty people present and we had a long and intense meeting and a constructive discussion. I gathered afterwards that the meeting was thought to be a success and helped to demonstrate why the new members should continue to be involved.

We need to have similar meetings constituency by constituency but not waiting for invitations but rather saying that we want to come – however few people might be present – and just give us possible dates. Revival is possible but not overnight.


* Michael Meadowcroft joined the Liberal Party in 1958. He has served at every level of the party organisation. He was a Leeds City Councillor, West Yorkshire Met County Councillor and MP for Leeds West, 1983-87. For 25 years he led or was part of electoral missions to 35 new democracies on four continents.

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  • While I agree with Michael’s diagnosis, I find it hard to see a cure. More and more ruthless targeting has indeed led to atrophy and waste of resources; but how do we fix it? In vast swathes of the country there just aren’t the committed party members there any more to do the reaching out and recruiting and nurturing necessary to rebuild in the atrophied areas, and while I agree that overly aggressive targeting is a cause of this, those of us that are still here are so knackered from triaging what’s left that we have little energy left to try to reach out.

    I wish I was leaving a more cheerful comment. Sorry.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Jan '18 - 3:19pm

    What a wonderful thing to be mentioned in an article by someone I admire, Michael Meadowcroft, with a colleague I consider a friend, Katharine Pindar !

    The response of Jennie is not depressing, as it is heartfelt and reflective, thus emotional
    and thoughtful . We need both. Whether we agree or not, are hotheaded or measured. What we do not need is silence and silencing.

    As someone who married into America, as it were, but whose political heroes, the Roosevelts, the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, were from there , I believe we can learn from there now.

    I know of candidates in the Democratic party who have made progress without leaflets.

    I am not arguing against leafleting.

    I respect and like Paul Holmes.

    Yet think about it, Italy, the other country I have knowledge of politically, I am half Italian personally, is about to consider a thirty one year old from the Five Star Movement as that nation’s pm!

    That movement developed online and in the media and on the street.

    I wanted to know more from Michael, because I know his and our values, most outside this party don’t, and to know his ideas as to how we can develop as a party.

    I believe he is right on speaking to the people who are our potential supporters. How do we do it when our leader is thought to be “he who flogged the post office to his friends in the city !” Crass, but true of more than some who we could see as the centre left voter who has gone to Labour.

    How do we do it when the party is thought to be”that lot who sold out on tuition fees etc!” Crass but true of many as to the way they perceive us in this party.

    For the first time in years, my desire to advance what we stand for , makes me wonder if , without changing the rules , to get a leader who is not an mp, or need not be, if we are in need of liberalising Labour, in an alliance, a return , not to the Lib Lab pact, but a uk DemocraticParty, that takes in Hillary and Bernie?!

    Under first past the post, it shall take years to just get a few seats. Brexit or bust ?! Not a good way forward.

  • David Becket 30th Jan '18 - 3:25pm

    Jennie is right, but we cannot do it on our own. In areas where we do not have the effort we need the national media. Our most sympathetic paper of the past, the Guardian, has blackballed us, with their constant reference to Labour tackling the Tories on Brexit and leading the opposition in the Lords. I no longer take the paper, possibly all Lib Dems should cancel their subscriptions.

    We could do more to help ourselves. The central party should be sending out daily press releases to all local parties to feed to local press, put on local websites or in a focus. Unfortunately there appears to be a lack of imagination at HQ.

    Leadership is the next problem, we have not had an inspiring leader since Charles.
    Vince is universally respected and does get air time, which is a step in the right direction. However he lacks charisma, and cannot do it all on his own. He needs a small back up team, with imagination and ideas. They can start be replacing the FCC and FPC, who between them have produced another conference agenda that will do little to attract the attention of the passenger on the local omnibus .

    A shake up of the party is required not another post as how to move forward, those running the party are holding us back.

  • Well said Michael. I remember hosting you when I was Chair of Durham University Liberal Society. 1982? The room had been double booked so we went to a nearby pub and you talked to us about Liberalism and what it was all about. It was the best meeting I have been to. There was probably only about 15 of us bit you were inspiring. Thanks for that. I agree with what you say. If we were just about winning and gaining power we probably would not be in a Liberal Party!

  • I disagree with the headline “targeting has damaged the party”. Indeed much of the article makes the case FOR targeting and having a ground strategy.

    It makes sense to pick “the lowest hanging fruit first”.

    By definition this means those seats that we are best placed in. It also means those wards within seats that we are best placed to win.

    There are two corollaries to this. Firstly it does not mean neglecting “development” areas. Every seat should at least “pick a ward and win it” and then another and then another.

    Secondly it means target and held seats giving back to neighbouring development seats. For example many good seats or groups of seats have set up printing societies to print Focus leaflets more cheaply and they should allow and encourage nearby seats to take advantage of this.

    Every seat or indeed if required group of seats should set a strategy that sees them grow. Today there is a vast amount of help, encouragement and support available within the party from ALDC, at conference etc. – and relatively easily accessible.

  • An insightful article. Definitely a lot to think about.

    You’re right about Wales especially.

  • David B: I tried my best on FCC to not deliver a boring agenda 🙁

    Michael: the problem is that everywhere the targeting model is followed the exact opposite of your two corollaries happens. Every single time. All the resources go to the target, which the target then jealously guards. I’ve known local parties discipline people for working in the “wrong” ward.

  • paul barker 30th Jan '18 - 5:54pm

    This is half right; what damaged us was Targeting without any National strategy to build a core vote. Our 23% in 2010 was built on sand with many of those Voters backing us for different, often contradictory reasons.
    Targeting is not enough but it is neccesary, we lost seats last Year because our Targetting wasnt ruthless enough.

  • Mick Taylor 30th Jan '18 - 6:01pm

    I agree with Michael. In 2010 there was considerable evidence that Leeds West was winnable because of LibDem activity and because there was to be a new MP as the current MP was quitting. I should know. My wife Ruth was the candidate and we had started to build up a presence and an organisation. My old friend Michael Meadowcroft had recently rejoined the party and we had started to discuss politics and Liberalism as mentioned in his article.
    No sooner did we recruit an activist than s/he was pinched to work for Greg Mulholland in Leeds NW. The then MP refused to even contemplate a serious effort. in another Leeds seat and used his considerable influence to prevent it. The party nationally refused to provide any resources at all and set impossible targets to reach before help would be given.
    The result? We ran a good campaign, with 3 Freeport leaflets and canvassing as well and reduced the Labour majority to its lowest since Michael lost the seat. We scored the best LibDem vote since 1987, but we didn’t win. It is clear that with more money and generosity of spirit that left to ourselves, without losing people to help target Leeds NW we might have pulled it off.
    That is the reality of targeting. In 2010 it cost us seats and prevented us winning quite a number. There is a long history of timidity in our party that goes back years. I remember in 1974 (1) our leader didn’t do the barnstorming tour of the country that our rising vote necessitated, because he was worried that he might lose his seat! Despite winning over 6 million votes we got just a handful of seats. Just imagine what might have happened of we had run a truly national campaign!
    A bit like 2010 really. If Nick Clegg had been able to draw people to packed rallies in all the major cities in the wake of the TV debates who knows? Instead we targeted a handful of seats and most the electorate never heard from us.
    Yes, some seats are more winnable than others, but without Liberal Democrats campaigning for our values everywhere, we won’t win. If we destroy our organisation in the attempt to target so called ‘winnable’ seats, then we are doomed to remain a small and insignificant parliamentary party.
    It took 60 years of my life before the party got into power. I haven’t got the time to wait another 60 years.
    We need to build an organisation in every seat in the country and teach people how to build the capacity to win. That’s what a national party is about!

  • Powerful stuff, Michael. Well said.

    I well remember you in that poky little office in Victoria Street (paid for by Richard Wainwright ?) setting up the Local Government Department and laying the foundations for eventual future success. Would you were running it again.

    I particularly welcome your comments on the so called “Flying the Flag” candidates (in Council & Parliamentary elections). It is indeed a breach of trust with the electorate if a candidate does no work. It shows a lack of respect for the electorate. I’m afraid that northern puritan streak in me (and I think in you) knows you get nowt if you do nowt.

  • David Evans 30th Jan '18 - 6:32pm

    I normally agree with Michael on almost everything he says, but on this matter he is badly mistaken. Before targetting, we had progressed by almost nothing for many years – 9 MPs in 1964 to 11 MPs by 1979. Then the SDP came along and we jumped (with the help of the likes of Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins) to 23 in 1983 and 22 after merger in 1987. It was only in 1997 with the advent of targeting that we rose from 20 to 46 and then to 52 and 62.

    Quite simply if we are serious about wanting real national power targeting was the only thing that delivered. Sadly when we got it, that’s when the damage was done to the party arose. But it wasn’t targeting.

    It was what we did in coalition.

  • @Jennie

    The difficulty is that 30% does not win you 30% of the seats – with First Past The Post it wins you none which was the problem with the Alliance in 1983.

    Probably the most successful targeting strategy was that of the Tories in 2015. And it was highly focused – often on us.

    I appreciate the gripes that people in the party have about target seats not doing enough to “repay their debt” to the party as a whole and other local parties and people who have helped them. Often though they are working their socks off trying to hold a seat with the fire of our opponents redoubled upon them. (See above).

    By definition no targeting strategy is perfect – assumptions that look valid before an election can turn out to misguided.

    The currents have been strongly against us recently as they were for Labour in the 80s and the Tories in the late 90s and 2000s. That does not mean that you don’t need strong ships to storm some islands – indeed the complete opposite.

    I appreciate the rows that local parties can have about a ward targeting strategy. The best build a consensus and also reward those that may be had less resources this time and work out what they can do in development wards at smaller cost- a common leaflet or newspaper does not cost more to deliver some extra in development wards.

    The worst spend all their time rowing about it and actually do not do much more in the so-called target wards. Being human, most are probably somewhere in between! But fail to plan and you plan to fail!

    They may grade their wards from “likely safe hold” to “no hope”. A safe hold might have less if things are going well. But in a “no hope” it takes not much to start to develop a delivery network and may be run a petition on a local issue. And if people will move from their ward it is more fun to be part of a winning campaign and may be begin to learn what to do.

    A targeting strategy does not mean doing nothing in non-targets, it means concentrating your resources in the best areas and where it will pay the greatest dividends. When I pick fruit – I start with the most accessible – it seems commonsense!

  • Chris Rennard 30th Jan '18 - 6:37pm

    1/2 Michael Meadowcroft earned respect winning Leeds West in 1983 and I remember lots of appeals for targeted help from activists around the country, I saw some of the headlines used in his leaflets that I had written for the Liverpool Mossley Hill campaign (which we also gained in 1983) and his local party received substantial financial support Rowntree Trust.

    In that 1983 general election, the ‘Alliance’ achieved over 25% of the vote, but won only 26 seats. In the 10 years after we lost Leeds West (1987), we did not have a single MP in Yorkshire and were therefore not well represented in regional TV programmes about national issues and lacked the kind of inspiration and leadership which MPs such as Paddy Ashdown were able to provide in the South-West.

    It was targeting Sheffield Hallam and Harrogate & Knaresborough in 1997 (without in any seriously weakening campaigns elsewhere) which gave us parliamentary representation in Yorkshire again and helped to raise our profile in regional media in a way that then helped successful targeted campaigns in Chesterfield (Yorkshire TV region) in 2001 and Leeds North West in 2005. Success breeds success and each targeted breakthrough encouraged members and candidates at every level in surrounding areas.

  • Chris Rennard 30th Jan '18 - 6:38pm


    It was serious targeting in 1997 which led us to gain 28 MPs (net) that year and then for our number of MPs to rise to 52 in 2001 and then 62 in the 2005 General Election. The story of all this is of course told in ‘Winning Here’ – my memoirs (to 2006) published last week. Some of the story of Chesterfield, and how Paul Rainger helped Paul Holmes to make the first Lib Dem gain from Labour, and also the 1984 parliamentary by-election referred to by Michael and in which I helped Peter Chegwyn as the agent also features.

    The lesson of all these years is that the party does not succeed at any election under First Past the Post without targeting support at successful local campaigns and backing its candidates at every level – if they are determined to win.

    I declare an interest in having overseen the target seat Campaigning 1997 (with Paddy Ashdown as Leader) and been Chief Executive of the general election campaigns of 2001 and 2005 (with Charles Kennedy as Leader and Tim Razzall as Campaign Chair). It was those election successes that later enabled us to go into coalition when there was no majority in Parliament in 2010.

  • Targeting did not start in 1997. We had target seats even in 1992. The difference for 1997 was the higher level of organisation and support with targets for what local parties needed to do to keep their target status. The gains of 1997 were not all the result of targeting some them were the result of the anti-Tory vote which came our way. In 2001 we gained 8 new seats and lost 2 seats. In 2005 we gained 16 seats (it can be argued that 6 were gained due to the Scottish boundary review) and lost 5.

    However, it can be argued that targeting did create problems. Every seat where we put up a candidate we should use the “free post” to at least deliver one leaflet across the whole constituency. If the Local Party can’t afford to do this then the region should pay for it, above putting extra money in the region’s target seats.

    Perhaps we need to remove some of the held seats from the target list. If won in a by-election then it should only be on the target list for two general elections and if won at a general election for only one further general election. New people should not be encouraged to work in these areas. Only people who have helped in the past elections should help there once these held seats are removed from the target seat list while being on the defending list.

    In the past there was a second level of seats which were not target seats and where the Local Party was encouraged to do as much as possible and not send help to target seats. If we don’t still have these types of seats we need to re-instate them.

  • Michael:

    “But in a “no hope” it takes not much to start to develop a delivery network”

    That seems like a pretty sweeping statement to me. Really?

    “A targeting strategy does not mean doing nothing in non-targets, it means concentrating your resources in the best areas and where it will pay the greatest dividends.”

    To expand on the Wales example – that is exactly what the long term targeting strategy has meant there. Even before that the targeting strategy wasn’t exactly wide reaching, but certainly since 2010, the Welsh party has put support solely into its four constituency target seats (the ones held up to 2010).

    Now those were the four that we held, or had previously held, so that makes sense. Absolutely. However, because of that completely single minded targeting strategy, we are now in the situation where we have no MPs in Wales; a single AM in Wales; have managed to lose almost every single one of of our 40 deposits for several elections in a row; managed to alienate many activists (and potential ones) because of that strategy; and have actually fallen back considerably, where we’re now not even in second place, in one of the four target seats – Cardiff Central.

    And on the subject of Cardiff – we went from running the Council pre-2012 to now being the third biggest party in the chamber, with only 10 Councillors. There are four constituencies – yet Cardiff Central was the only place any work ever went in at all – in the other three constituencies, we’re consistently losing our deposits in the National elections and polling only double digit figures in many Council Wards. For a party that has previously run the whole city, and hopes to again, that simply isn’t good enough.

    Now I know there’s no solutions in the above words, and I’m not going to attribute blame in any direction in particular in this comment; but I don’t think its at all helpful for anyone in the party to skim over the long term limitations of our historic approach to targeting just because it has worked on a short term basis in the past and can still work in some places now.

  • Laurence Cox 30th Jan '18 - 7:23pm

    I have to agree with David Evans and Chris Rennard here. Targeting is essential because you need to get enough people into an electoral area, be it a ward or a constituency, to canvass it thoroughly, to deliver enough leaflets that the average elector notices our existence, and to get out our vote on election day. This is why, historically, our performance in by-elections has been better than our performance in General Elections.

    Let us look as one of the less obvious benefits of targeting: assume that you are a candidate in a no-hope seat, then going to a target seat will give you a better feel for the level of campaigning required; seeing what a top campaign organiser does is like having a crash course in how to campaign. Over half our Party have joined since the 2015 General Election and it is these who need to know just how high a level of campaigning is required to win. Having been in the SDP in the 1980s, I never really realised how much work was needed, before as well as during an election, until after the merger when I was campaigning alongside Liberals who had been steeped in Community Politics. At local level, where I have been both a Candidate and an Agent in various elections, I have seen more seats lost because of complacency where a ward thought that they were safe and didn’t ask for more help, than I have seen wards that we failed to win narrowly because we didn’t put enough effort in at the end of the campaign. Targetting is not an exact science; when the tide is going your way you often win seats that you didn’t expect to, but when it is running against you it is essential that you do not spread your forces too widely and lose seats that you could have held.

    In the end, the public only notices the number of MPs or Councillors you have; the details of seats won and lost largely passes them by.

  • OnceALibDem 30th Jan '18 - 8:03pm

    “Over half our Party have joined since the 2015 General Election and it is these who need to know just how high a level of campaigning is required to win.”

    This is a huge elephant in the room. Too many articles are written by post 2015 joiners, with no experience of political campaigns that set out some ‘easy’ way to do this. And they are often lauded as ‘new thinkers’ whose views are in some way superior to those with frankly pretty damn good records of winning elections. When I was still involved I felt more than a little unappreciated – though this may be my vast and extremely sensitive ego at play 🙂

    You see that a bit above with the comment about Democrat successes. That may (a) not be all that true (huge amount of direct mail done in US elections) and (b) takes little account of a totally different scenario with two parties and a large amount of public domain information about people’s poltiical allegiances.

    This is IMO a hugely important debate for the party. And yet not a single position in a person of leadership in the party has yet commented. Why is every Federal Board member not having this drawn to their attention and their views being solicited.

  • @James

    Read Chris Rennard’s excellent posts about the benefits of targeting strategy.

    As regards Wales I do not know it well. But it is difficult to see how the targeting strategy in itself contributed to the situation – indeed you do say yourself it made sense. The only thing is that we may be needed to be even more targeted. It doesn’t mean that a specific strategy is right – it might be too broad or it might target the wrong seats. But no targeting strategy is (nearly???) always wrong in any field of human endeavour.

    As Chris says gaining just one MP in a region/nation helps massively build the profile of the party in that region – helping all other Lib Dems.

    There is of course sense in the party encouraging and supporting activity in development areas but there is a lot of information available on campaigning and activity – it is there if people want it.

  • Richard Underhill 30th Jan '18 - 8:33pm

    On the south east regional executive we targeted the Eastbourne by-election because it was a well worked area. We gave £5,000 from a successful fundraising, informed the then editor of the Liberal Democrat News and Chris Rennard. PPCs from second place seats, borough and county (!) councillors provided quality canvassers. Michael Heseltine gave three reasons for changing his promises not to stand against the PM and did.
    After we won Ribble Valley the Tories abolished the poll tax, as we said they would and their new chairman got an early bath.
    In Scotland the party won Kincardine and Deeside, so, as David Steel said, we have won in the south of England, in the north of England and in Scotland, (nationwide).

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Jan '18 - 8:35pm

    Once a lib dem

    I unlike the title of your pen name, am a lib dem, but was once Labour !

    I am not a new thinker, I was involved in politics at fourteen when my local Labour party let me in early, I joined this party for the first time in 2004 in my mid thirties!

    I mentioned the Democrats because they do leaflet but win by meetings, media, and , my favourite method, meet and greet on streets in community situations.The fact is that they generate a presence over time in areas where they stand a chance, because , as you say, there is two party politics. We do not have that as the rest of my comment showed, and thus aI consider alliances even if not convinced yet.

  • Michael – I said it made sense that we targeted the four held/recently held seats, because it does. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t target at all, and neither is anybody else in this comment section, or the article itself from what I can tell.

    What I am saying is that a narrow targeting strategy that allows absolutely everywhere that isn’t part of that strategy to wither and die, whilst at the same time failing to even achieve its aims in the areas being targeted – and I’ve evidenced that in Wales – clearly can’t he held up as an automatic recipe for success without any potential flaws.

  • And just to add (sorry, for having to post an extra comment) – in Wales, our targeting strategy involved us only doing anything in four constituencies out of forty over a six year period. That we then lost all of our four regional AMs in the most recent Welsh Assembly elections, whilst managing to slip even further back in three of those four constituencies in said elections anyway, seems to me to be quite a clear failing of our targeting strategy.

  • Targeting is necessary because of limited resources, so this is a debate more about what proportion of resources go on target seats, and how much is dedicated towards the rest, always being mindful that it’s much easier to allocate the correct amount of resources after the event.

    So what is the limiting factor when it comes to resources and therefore deciding how many seats we can fully target? Is it funding, is it people to deliver the leaflets, to knock on doors, or is it having the experienced campaigners who know how to keep everyone organised, brief volunteers or take care of the back-room work? Or something else? Where do all of our new members live? Are they more likely to live in the areas where we’ve previously targeted? Do we have a proper understanding of what skills are potentially available to us? Any discussion of the extent targeting versus widespread campaigning must consider what resources are available.

    I’m conscious that more than ever, we are influenced by what happens beyond our own constituency boundaries. Very few of us will be born, grow-up, live and work within a tight geographical area, and the odds are we have friends and family who influence our thinking in other parts of the country, and do we need to ensure areas adjacent to target seats also get a bit of extra tlc?

    The added dynamic is that we are not the only party to target seats, and if it’s a target for us, it’s likely to be one that our rivals invest in. This may involve petty and unfair attacks on our candidates, and not just during the campaign, but often afterwards if we win. Supporters of other parties can take the loss badly, and do their best to convince the electorate that they made a mistake. It is quite right that new MPs are given additional support to consolidate their status. On the other hand, success inspires success, so I’d also like to see our new MPs especially visiting the promising seats around their wider region to rally members there.

  • Ruth Bright 30th Jan '18 - 9:37pm

    Chris, we can at least be grateful that you have not used this thread to tell us how much your targeting strategy helped Lib Dem women!

  • The most spectacular example of targeting gone wrong has to be the Green Party in Bristol West during GE 2017. It was their top target and BBC Points West kept publicising their energetic campaigning there. The result was a hugely increased Labour majority of over 37000 and is now probably the safest seat in England. I bet the Greens wished they had allocated their resources more broadly around the country!

  • @Lorenzo. Both Democrats and Republicans spend vast amounts of money on directly mailed literature (their spending limits are so high as to be almost meaningless) and even greater amounts on paid for electronic media. All this is done by paid professionals from State and National centres. Local campaigners such as your friend do the local street activity -such as the ‘stand ups’ I took part in when campaigning for Obama in 2008 and don’t handle the other material in the way that one of our constituency campaigns would.

  • What I don’t understand is why we target FPTP constituencies (outside the Highland and Islands) in the Scottish and Welsh elections. How we perform in the regional list elections determines our representation. If we win a FPTP seat, we just lose the corresponding seat on the list.

  • @Mike. Mike lets say that 650 Green activists spent one day each in their Target Seat in Bristol. If they had all instead spent one day each in one of the 650 constituencies across the UK how would that one days activity by one person in one constituency have made the slightest difference to their national performance in June 2017? Likewise if whatever money they spent on Bristol had been split 650 ways what impact would it have had?

    @James. Hi James. I know little about Welsh LD strategy other than that it did nearly save our sole MP in June 2017, which in itself would have been a major achievment given the dire position we have been reduced to post 2010. You have said that Targeting 4 out 44 constituencies in Wales means 40 wither away. Why is that so? Presumably there is nothing stopping you and your colleagues in your constituency from building your campaign team and effort locally until the point where you can deliver a cross constituency campaign and eventually become a future Target Seat? If whatever resources were put into the 4 areas you mention were divided between 44 would there be enough to make any difference in any of them? For example, way back in 1995 when Chesterfield became a Target Seat we were given the princely sum of £1,000 per year by our Regional Party. As I explained to one disgruntled individual if that was split evenly it would have given each of the 47 Constituencies in the Region around £20 each. Useless to them but collectively it bought us a Constituency wide Tabloid which we had the capacity to deliver alongside much else whereas most Constituencies did not then and do not now.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Jan '18 - 11:38pm

    Paul Holmes

    That, Paul is very good what you write, the example I used was a local campaign at more local tier of government , another I know for Congress, more as you say, but it is the case there , a real buzz and ongoing media interest, as they have local outlets, channels we do not, with respect to Notts tv, it is not Sky or BBC1 !

  • Alan – well, partly because despite being pro-PR, we seem to be pretty terrible at running campaigns in elections run under PR. So its a case of default to what we know best, which is constituency campaigning.

    However, there are two reasons really. The first idea is that if we are able to get people to vote for us in a constituency, then we’re more likely to get them to also vote for us a second time in the regional list vote. Secondly, with the way the Additional Member System works in both Wales and Scotland, constituency results are taken into account in the regional list allocation – so the better we do at a constituency level across a region, the better we should do overall.

  • Paul,

    There are 40 constituencies in Wales first of all, not 44. Secondly, dividing the resources put into those 4 target seats between every single seat (presumably, you mean an equal division) is not at all what I said.

    The Welsh party has had absolutely no interest whatsoever in ‘future target seats’ for quite some time.

    Regardless, many local parties in Wales cover multiple constituencies. Despite this, a number of local parties have in recent-ish history – without help from the central party and with very limited resources – managed to do just what you said in some constituencies (have a look at some of the results pre-coalition)

    In the elections since then, the central Welsh party refused to even cover deposits for local parties who had to field candidates in hopeless constituencies, whilst trying to find the money to target and maintain as best they could the result in the constituency that they had built up support in.

  • paul holmes 31st Jan '18 - 1:17am

    James, I’m not sure then what point you were making in your original posts.

    As regards lost deposits (a record 375 in June 2017) we have had the same debate on our Regional Exec. We covered some this time (where certain criteria were met) but have said it will not be likely next time and Local Parties should be building the relevant £500 into their planning. We have also expressed the view that the National/Federal Party should step in if they want candidates everywhere in the future. After all they take and keep the vast majority of Membership money and, in our Region’s case at least, we are not even getting any support from the Campaign Staff they employ with our member’s money.

    I still do not see much sign that the Party as a whole -let alone the National/Federal hierarchy -have come to terms with the abyss we were plunged into post 2010. What had come to be seen as normal over the previous 20 years has gone. I wrote an LDV article in 2015 suggesting the National/Federal Party strip out every bit of admin they could so as to provide more funding to support on the ground campaigning at all levels and starting with Council level. That’s where we can start to grow again and to train all those new post 2015 members. No sign of anything yet though.

  • Fran Oborski 31st Jan '18 - 8:21am

    I agree that targeting is necessary but “helicoptering “ candidates into constituencies about which they know nothing is a total disaster!
    In Wyre Forest we would have doubled our number of County Cllrs had the GE not been called on the same day, and as the sole LibDem County Cllr in the Constituency I need a colleague! Our PPC was the County Candidate who missed out! Yes we left st our deposit but we did actually increase our share of the vote and we’ve kept on working!
    The “directing” of activists in 2017 was totally weird! InWyre Forest (think of it as Kidderminster) we are 40 mins maxfrom Cheltenham, so where were we directed to help? Bath!! Please drive past Cheltenham and do the best part of another hour’s driving!! We didn’t! Those who went to help elsewhere went to Cheltenham.
    I was fighting to retain my County seat AND being the Election Agent for the GE and all our County Campaigns, I was seriously NOT amused to keep getting pestered by HQ to go and help in target seats and give money!
    I know that I am not the only activist who got more than a little bit disenchanted by the HQ approach.
    An earlier post suggested that HQ should “bombard” Constituencies with draft Press Releases. Can I suggest that Press Releases which are anything to do with Local Govt should be “delegated” to ALDC who have the benefit of knowing what they are talking about!
    I’m glad some constituencies get help from their Regional Parties; I have to say that at the moment, for those of us in the Shire Counties, the West Midlands Regional Party seems to be irrelevant!
    In Worcestershire we have a cross-Constituency “Campaign Group” which works with ALDC to encourage and train Council Candidates. The Party is not going to succeed if it doesn’t encourage a Local Government base!
    I remember, as a much younger Cllr., going up to Edge Hill and around the country to BT-Elections, many of those “By Election Groupies” were young Cllrs; without a strong Councillor base the Party will wither.
    Somebody at HQ needs to recognise the importance of real community campaigning where we can put our Liberalism into real practice and actually have an impact on real people’s lives!
    Michael Meadowcroft was a key player in bringing me back into the Party, as were Chris Rennard and Sal Brinton!

  • Tristan Ward 31st Jan '18 - 8:28am

    I am surprised no one has mentioned the excellent and thought provoking pamphlets promoted and jointly written by Mark Pack called “if I recall correctly) Rebuilding the Liberal Democrats” and Building a Core Vote. They include many suggested ways of helping to square this circle and I am seeing signs that the party is taking them on board.

  • Tristan Ward 31st Jan '18 - 8:32am

    Here’s a link to Mark’s website that will take you to his pamflets.

  • There does actually seem to be quite a lot of consensus here. Even among those that say that they are on different sides of targeting debate. And it is difficult to talk in the abstract.

    As has been said, those of us that remember the Alliance days – even if not active then will remember them getting large votes – larger than the Lib Dems in 1997-2010 and desultory numbers of MPs. We turned this into MPs particularly in 1997 but to a degree 92 through targeting and getting larger swings than average in key seats.

    Arguably the 2017 election and even the 2015 election was better through targeting than it might have been in terms of MPs given the national picture. In England we did the same (or indeed slightly better) in terms of MPs than in 83, 87 and 92, I believe.

    The key with FPTP is to concentrate your vote if you are getting under say 35%-40%. The ultimate targeting and concentrating of vote is of course the SNP. They got under our vote across the UK and of course many times the MPs – by ignoring some 590 constituencies. Now I am not advocating that!

    And for a “guerrilla brand” with effectively no money compared to the others – I refer people to the posts by Chris R on the benefits that having an MP in a region has – worth effectively thousands to nearby seats if you were to pay for the coverage at advertising rates.

    And the Tories and Ashcroft in 2015 coupled a highly focused targeting (often on us) with a national message that resonated.

  • 2/2

    There remain issues:
    1. To develop a better “air” war and national message to increase our national message. Some of this may need money and resources which obviously does take away from the ground campaign. Some of this may mean targeting – by age, gender or geographically.

    2. Win and start gaining council seats and councils in coming years. As this will boost our credibility with the media and help with 1.

    3. All local parties have a strategy including a targeting strategy that is both wildly optimistic and wildly pessimistic (!) – may be across cities or council areas such as say, Leeds! To help with 2. which in turn helps with 1.

    And also if we moan about the lack of national/regional/local coverage all members/supporters can help through getting coverage of their campaigns (and views) in the media and through facebook, twitter – and um good old fashioned leaflets.

    All members and supporters should “stick it on a piece of paper and shove it through someone’s letterbox” – although today that may mean social media as well. If it is not happening in your area – contact your local party to say you want to do it, fund it and do it! Most successful activists (i.e. people who wanted some political change) never started by waiting for people to get in touch with them – they would probably still be waiting.

  • Sue Sutherland 31st Jan '18 - 2:45pm

    I was heavily involved in a target seat during the 80s and 90s. Targeting built up council representation, won the constituency and then resulted in us taking control of the local council. At a local level we managed to get a large swing behind us so we won seats that hadn’t necessarily been worked hard. However, in the 80s the Alliance was regularly getting over 20% in the national polls. Fiona is correct. Targeting is necessary because of limited resources but while I can understand we want to win more Parliamentary seats and Council seats there may be other targets that are more important.
    We have a tiny following in the polls, limited financial resources, but, extraordinarily, a large membership for us. I think we should be concentrating on motivating that membership and teaching them how to campaign. Some of them will be able to teach us oldies about online campaigning. Our number one priority should be to keep those members and get them engaged. Some are already involved in campaigning and standing as local councillors, others could be involved in policy and strategy decision making. There is work going on to reform the workings of the party that I am hopeful will make us more successful and this needs more time and effort. I think we should be funding a post to deal with this full time if we aren’t already. We also need to sort out communicating and consulting with members. Jennie could you write a post on why the Spring Conference agenda is exciting? What decisions have to be made etc. I wanted to go because there was an interesting paper coming from the House of Lords but I can’t find it. Most other organisations ‘sell’ their events but we politicians seem to expect members to get excited by doleful policy suggestions. You CAN make them exciting Jennie.
    We are still in the doldrums politically but concentrating on one particular aspect of campaigning and blaming it for all our ills isn’t going to rescue us. Targeting or not targeting, too much literature in target seats, the Coalition, the Leader, all of these things may have contributed to our virtual collapse but that isn’t important. What is important is to look at our present circumstances and actually decide how we can improve, not make assumptions and revisit old arguments. We have opportunities so let’s make the best of them with a dose of optimism for our future and that of our benighted country.

  • Michael Meadowcroft 31st Jan '18 - 3:07pm

    First, I’m grateful to the many colleagues who contributed to this discussion.

    I thought I had made it clear that it was right to risk one massive targeting effort, as in 1997, but the error has been to assume that it can be repeated for ever without hugely deleterious consequences. Over twenty-five years there have been only diminishing returns and the destruction of the party’s presence in at least 60% of the country.

    Second, I am not opposed to concentration on what are perceived as the more winnable seats but not at the expense of abandoning neighbouring seats – which has happened forcibly as Mick Taylor pointed out.

    I am disappointed by Chris Rennard’s selective memory of my seat in 1983. We certainly appealed for help – and got it – but we never put these friends off from fighting in their own areas. Also, in the main, those who came were attracted by the radical style of the Liberal politics we promoted successfully in Leeds – at a time when the party, frankly, was not seriously interested in gaining seats from Labour. Note that Chris mentions that Leeds West received financial help from the Rowntree Trust. That was because there was never a single penny from the national party – even after we had won! Nor was the Rowntree support “substantial” – it came in the last year of my tenure because my good friend, Pratap Chitnis at the Trust was concerned that we had no paid help, and was just enough to employ an agent at a pretty mean salary. It took us fifteen long years to win Leeds West – all paid for by local cash and by twisting the arms of friends.

  • OnceALibDem 31st Jan '18 - 3:35pm

    Tristan – Mark seems curiously persona non grata on this site

    Targetting wasn’t so much damaging as the one-dimensional ‘campaigning’ that went with targeting with a focus on volume not quality and measuing quantity not effectiveness. I remember a long discussion with a ‘campaigns’ officer about why a seat I was trying to help wasn’t purchasing (expensive) colour letter heads for target mail. (the money could be put to more effective use was my answer).

    That ‘volume is king’ approach dates back to Chris’s days in charge of such things – and it is arguable that one reason for the party’s weaknesses is that Chris wasn’t actually all that good a campaigner. That will produce a reaction no doubt with lots of references to Eastbourne/Newbury/Brent East/Dunfermline. But those were elections not campaigns. Whilst there is an overlap the two are not the same. Eventually the campaigns and elections dept morphed into field and elections. A subtle change that meant very little and oh so much.

    The volume is king approach also led to seats producing anodyne and valueless material just to hit their ‘targets’. Often just putting ‘constituency name’ on whatever template and proforma letters had been produced.

  • Peter Hirst 31st Jan '18 - 3:53pm

    Targeting is okay as long as it works. And as long as it depends on a significant core vote. The electorate is extremely volatile and credibility, consistency authenticity are essential and too often targeting leads to a loss of the last.

  • @OnceALibDem

    To be fair to Chris – I heard a lot about the importance of localising messages – from him and others from the campaigns department – certainly of his era and I believe since – at training events etc.

    It was certainly his approach at by-elections.

    It makes sense to take templates etc. from others to save time etc. And to link into the national campaign and messages to amplify it – hopefully they get it right – sometimes they don’t!

    The issue of volume I appreciate divides people. I would just say that big companies – Tesco, Coca-Cola aim at massive repetition of the same message and they are making a lot of money and their livelihoods depend on getting it right – otherwise no-one will buy their products!

    People are also buying the Mail, Sun, Telegraph, Mirror on a DAILY basis.

  • Nick Collins 31st Jan '18 - 4:47pm

    1/[email protected] Michael BG. “In the past there was a second level of seats which were not target seats (which were not required to) send help to target seats. If we don’t still have these types of seats we need to re-instate them.”

    That’s not my recollection of the situation in 1997. At that time there were three categories of seats: “target”, starred” and “development”. I was an officer in a starred seat. To earn that status we were expected to have a reasonably effective local team, a track record of successful campaigning and fund raising and to encourage some of our activists to spend some of their time campaigning in one or more target seats. In exchange we received some support and training from the Regional Party and a little financial support. The visits to target seats were not just an imposition; they were an opportunity to see, and experience, best campaigning practice and then to apply the lessons learned in our own seat . The objective: to help the target seat to win and to further our own development in order to earn the opportunity to be a target at the next election. With respect, Michael Meadowcroft, that process was a far cry from being “hollowed out” by targeting.

    I recall that, after the 1997 election, Jeremy Thorpe was quoted as commenting, rather wryly, that the Liberal Party had achieved a higher share of the vote in the first of the 1974 elections than had the Liberal Democrats in 1997 but for a far smaller reward in terms of MPs elected. The crucial difference between 1974 and 1997 is to be found in the admirable contributions, earlier in this thread, by Chris Rennard.

  • Nick Collins 31st Jan '18 - 4:47pm

    2/2 I am no longer a member: I left in 2011. Looking in from outside it seems to me that your campaigning strength and credibility have been so damaged by the coalition years and their aftermath that you may have some difficulty in discerning which seats to target at the next general election. You have received an influx of new members. They have lots of enthusiasm but little or no campaigning experience, and they are scattered, somewhat randomly, across the country. How are you going to galvanise them into an effective campaigning force? To sustain their morale and motivation you need to chalk up a few wins. The way forward is probably to replicate the process described by Sue Sutherland by which many local parties, in the 80s and 90s, prepared the ground for the electoral successes towards the end of the last century and the pre-coalition years of this. Those in the vanguard of this process should, by now, already have selected and be campaigning in their target seats for the forthcoming council elections.

  • @Nick Collins

    I expect your memory is better than mine but it is possible we both could be correct. With starred seats helping in target seats on action days etc. but there not being an expectation of them sending much help during the general election campaign except maybe for the day itself.

    As you sate the objective in these second tier seats was “to further (their) development in order to earn the opportunity to be a target at the next election”.

  • Phil Wainewright 31st Jan '18 - 6:59pm

    The problem with a targetting strategy is that it will always be wrong in hindsight. That is the unpredictable nature of elections. Targetting’s important, but the trick is to get the right balance between the ‘ground war’ and the ‘air war’.

    In 2010 in Camden the local party fought two constituencies, both Labour-held. We missed one by less than 900 votes, the other by almost 10,000. If we had moved resources from one to the other, would it have made up that 900-vote difference? And if it hadn’t, would that have been fair on activists and councillors in the other constituency? There’s no way of knowing.

    With hindsight, there are so many things that might or might not have changed the result. What I do know is that if the party’s vote nationally had held up just 1% or so more, that would have made the difference in Hampstead & Kilburn. It was the ‘air war’ that let us down, not the ‘ground war’.

    My conclusion is that we have to do our level best at both – while recognising that neither will be perfect. We also have to avoid ‘refighting the last war’. Social media has become a crucial new channel over the past 5-10 years, and therefore, reaching out to members in ‘no-hope’ areas and enthusing them can have an impact on the ‘air war’ that didn’t exist back then – especially since there are so many more new members now.

    At the same time, we need to explain why the electoral system obliges us to attempt to concentrate resources where we hope to win seats, whether at council level or in Westminster – and while armchair online campaigning (and telephoning) really can help, we still need as many people as possible getting out leafletting and talking to voters in numbers in those seats that we aim to win.

  • OnceALibDem 31st Jan '18 - 7:36pm

    Localising messages was talked about – but when it came down to the material actually produced it was really lipservice. I was hitting the same targets whether my mailings were national templates with a name change, or bespoke written to suit the local campaign. And certainly the less they were altered the less effective they seemed to be (measure by returns at least).

    There was very little coming out from elections dept (it was NOT the campaigns department at this point) was was how to do that in terms of the research and analysis skills that were needed.

    That was the case in earlier by-elections of the Eastbourne/Ribble Valley era. Less so later on IME. Localising in Hartlepool for example was pretty non-existent apart from one weird ‘find a broken street light on every delivery walk’ leaflet.

    You could get really clever using public domain data and teaching activists how to analyse and understand data and really be able to target in quite a sophisticated way down to groups of 100 and fewer houses. But who is teaching those skills or giving people the tools to innovate?

    I certainly don’t have issues when it comes to volume – but it doesn’t trump content. A similar mistake was made post 2010 when ‘doors knocked’ became the new metric without any attempt to measure the quality and value of what was being done. The core of the problem is deciding something is important just because it can me measured easily.

  • Nick Collins 31st Jan '18 - 8:13pm

    @ George Kendall,

    Hi George,

    I don’t think so.

    In an effort to reduce my original comment to an acceptable length, I deleted the last paragraph: the gist of which was to say that having first joined the Liberal
    Party in 1962 (shortly after the Orpington byelection) when we had five (or was it six) MPs I am now too old and too depressed by the current political scene to motivate myself to start again.

    I also doubt whether my curmudgeonly presence now would be perceived as helpful or motivational by the new generation of activists. And I wonder how relevant my experience would be in the digital / social media age. Phil Wainewright cautions against “refighting the last war”; perhaps I would be perceived as trying to refight the wars of a previous millennium!

    But, to return to the point of this thread, it seems to me to be essential for a small party with limited resources, fighting two bigger ones with far greater resources, to target those resources to where they are likely to be most effective.

    @ Michael BG. You may well be right. I seem to recall that our visit to a target seat, once Parliament had been dissolved, was somewhat tokenistic.

  • @OnceALibDem

    If I can be so bold your comments seem a little contradictory. You seem to be saying that nationally produced leaflets/templates were effective but somewhat decrying them previously.

    Clearly you can have the wrong message and volume doesn’t help. You can have the best message in the world but it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t lodge in people’s minds through volume and repetition.

    Clearly you can set the wrong targets centrally – and I have some sympathy for your views on canvass targets but a large canvass is important for a whole host of reasons. This was you say post 2010 and after Chris’s era.

    Being in first a target seat (while actually a “starred” seat) that we (just) won and subsequently in a held seat and heavily involved in campaigning in both up to 2010 – I found campaigns officers, the campaigns department and Chris himself – helpful, knowledgeable, encouraging rather than didactic, experienced and almost always right (annoyingly!).

    @Nick Collins

    Go on be a curmudgeon! I do understand that some forward thinking local parties are now using the phone to contact people! But don’t worry about this interweb thing – it will never come to much :)!

    Seriously the principles are the same whether using letraset and a typewriter and a duplicator to produce leaflets or email!

    An old curmudgeon with wise head definitely has a place in any campaign team!

    (At the very least you can raise a lot of money by donating a pound for every time you say “in my day…”!)

    @Phil Wainewright

    “What I do know is that if the party’s vote nationally had held up just 1% or so more, that would have made the difference in Hampstead & Kilburn. It was the ‘air war’ that let us down, not the ‘ground war’.”

    May be – may be not – I don’t think it is provable either way. Could any local campaign have done more? – probably even when they have worked their socks off. Does any national “air war” campaign not make mistakes? Probably not.

  • *slips in a little high five for Ruth Bright*

    Michael Meadowcroft: I thought you were perfectly clear, yes, and I for one apologise of my comments didn’t make it clear I understood that point.

  • Graham Garvie – I never cease to be amazed at the number of people who want to be led out of their problems. As you put it “What Liberalism, the country and the great British Public desperately need to have as a focus, in this increasingly fast-moving fascinating new world of both seemingly never-ending and fresh challenges, is an inspiring, able, dynamic, energetic and attractive Leader.”

    The problem is that leaders like that are a) very rare and b) very self centred. To me the key word in the preamble is balance as in “balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community”. The one thing you get if you rely too much on a leader is their view is imposed or unquestioningly accepted by far too many, and balance goes out of the window.

    To my mind that was made far too clear in coalition when our leader had one vision that led us to the mess we are in now, while far too many were unwilling or unable to do anything about it, even when the party was collapsing.

    Getting out of problems takes hard work. Personal, gut crunching hard work. Don’t expect a saviour. It’s almost certain he (or she) is just “a very naughty boy” (or girl).

  • OnceALibDem 1st Feb '18 - 12:11am

    “You seem to be saying that nationally produced leaflets/templates were effective but somewhat decrying them previously.”

    They gave some good ideas. As I said, the less they were adapted the less effective I found them. I’m not sure that constitutes being effective.

    “Seriously the principles are the same whether using letraset and a typewriter and a duplicator to produce leaflets or email! ”

    Absolutely. Persuade, Identify, Get them out to Vote. It has been the same since Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign through to Obama and Trump. Sometimes message can do that alone (Trump? Discuss :-), sometimes volume alone

    “but a large canvass is important for a whole host of reasons.”

    Yes. Well kind of. What you need to identify is the people who’s vote is going to change and/or will support you if you motivate them to vote. In any election there is a chunk of people who won’t vote or are never going to vote for you. It’s not hard to estimate that at 50% of the electorate. Door knocking is incredibly time intensive (approx 30% of people being in – and then getting meaningful data from those who are in needs questions other than ‘who you gonna vote for then’ The whole ‘knock on lots of doors’ approach didn’t seem to focus on why this was being done. And how that data could then be used to extrapolate to the people you weren’t able to speak to. There are known techniques for doing that but who is teaching about that.

    (one reason I stopped being involved is that no-one seemed interested in this sort of stuff and there were active barriers put on being able to have a play around with some data and ideas to try things out – the only real way you can see if things might work. It was all top down, do it our way. Basically its stopped things being fun for me!)

  • Michael Meadowcroft 1st Feb '18 - 10:21am

    I ought to be more constructive than analytical in responding to the comments of a number of colleagues who questioned what is to be done and point to the Coalition as the main cause of our cataclysmic electoral decline. It certainly did not help! But the lack of a party built on intellectual rigour and a thorough understanding, at least amongst members, of what Liberalism is, as opposed to a diet of Focus superficiality, was bound to be particularly vulnerable to any highly unpopular decision – even if correct. You cannot withstand the storm if the house is built on sand.

    The relative popularity of Corbyn and the Labour party at the last election was to a significant extent because we were not in the game. With many electors, in particularly younger voters, desperate to vote against the Tories, where could they go but to Labour? In 1982, faced with the rise of Tony Benn and the Left’s dominance of the Labour party, I wrote a booklet “Liberalism and the Left” to provide the party with the basis and ammunition to show how we were the true radicals. It is time to re-publish it with a brand new forward.

    Jennie says, “I find it hard to see a cure”. But the answer lies in David’s reference to the meeting I did at Durham University. We need more and more of the same, with MPs, Peers and party “greybeards” going constituency by constituency to set out the basic values and to enthuse the membership. This needs to be backed up by having a document available for all setting out those values. The best “new” statement is Liberal International’s recent “Manifesto and we are in the process of publishing it in Leeds.

    Essentially the question is whether the party intends to be a national party, confident in its basic values and in its view of a Liberal society, or whether it is going to be a fringe organisation, occasionally biting the heels of the establishment. What is the point of being right on all major issues if we do not have the capacity to point it out?

  • @ Michael Meadowcroft Michael is correct.” You cannot withstand the storm if the house is built on sand.” Exactly – but that is the trouble.

    There was a time, in my young day, and Michael’s young day, when the party was relatively united with a philosophical underpinning of social liberalism. Unfortunately that is no longer the case. The 7% rump is divided between those remaining social liberals and those of a more neo-liberal orangeist disposition (though some have have disappeared to more lucrative shores).

    Until Michael’s “MPs, Peers and party ‘greybeards’ going constituency by constituency to set out the basic values and to enthuse the membership” sing from the same social liberal radical hymn sheet – and actually believe in it – then the party will continue to be seen as an ineffective obscure sect with no political relevance or future and the young will continue to support Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

    The only hope is a clear break with the last ten years. How that will be achieved in terms of personnel and policy is anybody’s guess. In the meantime many will continue to vote tactically to get the Tories out.

  • @ Nick Collins
    “@ Michael BG. You may well be right”

    Thank you – we were both correct.

    @ Michael Meadowcroft
    “You cannot withstand the storm if the house is built on sand”.

    When I joined the party at merger I identified as a Social Democrat believing in a mixed economy with socialism being the co-operative type and not the state capitalist model. I managed to attend Federal Conference and was influenced by those speakers who spoke about liberal principles and how they applied to the motion under discussion. I well remember wanting to go to conference to get my “fix” of liberalism as explained by Lord Conrad Russell. Now I identify as a Liberal.

    My Local Party never discussed liberalism; this might have been because the majority of members were ex-SDP or it might have been because the main tasks of the local party were to retain our existing councillors, raise money for elections and leaflets, and get more people elected as councillors.

    I have not attended a Federal Conference for about 10 years so I don’t know if people still refer to liberalism when discussing motions and if there are fringe events where speakers set out their views on liberalism.

    @ David Raw

    You are correct to point out that people joined the party who identified themselves as liberals but held economic liberal views and were socially liberal but not social liberals. They often shared many principles with social liberals.

    The question arises how do we define a social liberal?

    Is it a person who believes that people have to be more economically equal, that it is the role of government to create a society where the divide between the richest and poorest is not too great, that market forces cannot create an economically equal society, and that people will not end up economically equal no matter how much education and training is available unless the government intervenes in “the market” to change behaviour and redistributes income and wealth to create a more economically equal society?

  • @OnceALibDem

    I think there are two good points that come out from your post:

    “Door knocking is incredibly time intensive”

    I think is a very good point. And I have had arguments that it is sometimes better to say deliver 2 leaflets ward-wide than spend hours door knocking for people that never answer. One of the answers is find better ways to reach those that never answer.

    But if you don’t have data on voting intentions – historic and refreshed you are in a poor situation.

    And talking to be people CAN also be very good at engaging with them. It CAN be very bad – if people lecture – the recipient says “yes, yes” and thinks what a boorish person from the Lib Dems.

    “And how that data could then be used to extrapolate to the people you weren’t able to speak to.”

    My understanding is that Connect does do this (to some degree?) and the Connect team have been working on this.

    I think that greater use could be made of census data than is currently the situation as I understand it.

    “one reason I stopped being involved is that no-one seemed interested in this sort of stuff and there were active barriers put on being able to have a play around with some data and ideas to try things out – the only real way you can see if things might work. It was all top down, do it our way. Basically its stopped things being fun for me!”

    I think that is a valid point. There are some legitimate reasons for “barriers” and some not so legitimate reasons. And there are ways of doing it at individually and at a constituency or ward level if with a little difficulty.

    But if you want to get back involved you should talk to people on how you might take your ideas forward.

  • Michael Meadowcroft is absolutely correct to argue that a long-term sustainable future for the party can only come from promoting our values. Michael’s “Liberalism and the Left” (and other Liberal publications) are available for downloading on his website (www.bramleydemon.co.uk). Just before the General election, I gave a copy to a very thoughtful young work colleague who was a member of the Labour Party. He is now a member of the Liberal Democrats on the basis of political philosophy.

  • Ruth Bright 1st Feb '18 - 1:22pm

    Ta to Jennie (as ever).

    Michael can be forgiven for plugging his pamphlets. They inspired many a student politician like me (sadly now in advanced middle age). His “greybeard” idea sounds a bit like the Russian “To the People” movement in the late nineteenth century. Unfortunately
    when they took the good news of community politics to the villages one or two ended up roasted on spits! Good luck to any greybeard who tries to break the news to my old local party that it is meant to be a political organisation.

  • @Michael Meadowcroft

    Can I suggest that the history of your seat suggests that there should have been rather more targeting between 1983-1987

    You say:
    “That was because there was never a single penny from the national party – even after we had won! Nor was the Rowntree support “substantial” – it came in the last year of my tenure ”

    It sounds as if there should have been more targeted help for Leeds West from the national party between 1983-87.

    Nor does any targeting strategy preclude people working in their own seats. Just encourage them to volunteer some time where it might mean extra seats which makes sense. This is what Momentum did for Labour in 2017.

    Can I suggest that between 1992 and 2010, the party with Chris Rennard and others developed a successful strategy. In general moving from “equidistance” to saying in 97 we want to oust the Tories. Targeting particularly those seats where we and not Labour were best place to oust the Tories. And making sure that people in those seats knew that through massive targeted campaigning.

    From 1997 we moved to delivering a critique of Labour including on the Iraq war and being too cautious on funding the NHS. Because we had been successful on actually wining seats, we picked up further seats from Labour and did well in council areas in Labour areas.

    By and large by supporting seats that we had gained we lost back very few seats to the Tories.

    Go and look back at what people where saying about us in 1992 – a spent force, the merger hadn’t proved successful, a continuing SDP, and indeed some feeling that a continuing Liberal party was the best way forward!

    Between 1992-2010, I would suggest that rather being “hollowed out” – we became strong in many different types of areas. Through both an effective targeting strategy and an effective national strategy!

    Since 2010, times have been tough. They were tough in the 80s for Labour and 90s and 2000s for the Tories. I would suggest that actually despite these tough times, 2015 and 2017 saw better results through targeting in terms of MPs than would have been the case otherwise! Indeed in England we had roughly the same number of MPs as the Alliance despite a third of the vote.

  • Phil Beesley 1st Feb '18 - 3:43pm

    The Rennard ploy, targeting vulnerable opposition seats and defending exposed held seats was a limited trick. It relied on the opposition to fail seeing Lib Dems underlying their vote. It’s a trick that Lib Dems can’t play again.

    There was no Lib Dem story to maintain believers when things went wrong. Look at the places where Lib Dems were elected a few years ago which are now — waiting for revival, at best.

  • Nick Collins 1st Feb '18 - 4:45pm

    @ Michael Meadowcroft. i like your 10.21 a.m comment very much. But I do not buy your earlier thesis to the effect that targeting was o.k. in 1997 but had outlived its usefulness and become positively harmful thereafter.

    1964, 1974 and 1997 were special. In each of those years the governing party had become unpopular and was in some disarray. That made it vulnerable to its challengers. Targeting and good organisation enabled the LibDems to reap better rewards from that situation than the Liberals had managed previously. !983 was another, somewhat different, opportunity: but a similarly missed opportunity.

    The elections of 2001 and 2005 were fought in very different circumstances, so it’s not surprising that there were fewer gains on those occasions. The fact that the party was able to hold most of the seats it had gained in 1997 and add to them vindicated the effectiveness of good targeting. To cite those elections as evidence that targeting produced “diminishing returns” makes no sense.

    When Clegg became Leader he announced his ambition to increase the number of MPs, if I remember rightly, to more than 200 within a decade. At about that time one began to hear siren voices articulating the view that the sort of incremental growth likely to achieved by the, then, current targeting strategy was too slow to achieve such a vision and that, therefore, a “different approach” was now required.

    But they never actually articulated what magical “different approach” was going to produce Clegg’s “great leap forward”.

    And then the Party plunged into the abyss of coalition.

    What those who now decry targeting need to explain is how, without it, they propose to re-build LibDem representation in the post-coalition and post-Brexit era. I shall be fascinated to read their suggestions.

  • Nick Collins 1st Feb '18 - 4:48pm

    ” likely to achieved ” Sorry, that should read “likely to be achieved”

  • David Evans 1st Feb '18 - 4:50pm

    Phil Beesley – an interesting hypothesis, but no analysis or evidence whatsoever. Have you got some?

  • @Phil Beesley

    Shock horror that a party should try and win seats! Particularly those that it is most likely to win!

    No-one is denying that electorally since 2010 things have been tough for the Lib Dems. Even then in many areas of strength it has maintained a local council base. We perhaps stand now in 2018, at a similar point to 1992.

    There are no guarantees and no room for complacency. But a national narrative and strategy is beginning to emerge around Brexit and funding public services well coupled with traditional Liberal values that are not held by Labour or the Tories.

    A caveat is the relatively strong position of Labour and the Tories – both above 40% in the opinion polls which may or may not last.

  • Phil Beesley 1st Feb '18 - 5:25pm

    @David Evans: “an interesting hypothesis, but no analysis or evidence whatsoever. Have you got some?”

    For the “Rennard ploy”, I understand it and understood it. But it was a trick that could only work for a short time.

  • Peter Andrews 1st Feb '18 - 5:26pm

    Targeting does not involve stopping local parties from campaigning locally especially in local elections, it just makes them do so more effectively. So setting the aim of winning the most winnable local ward(s) working out and agreeing a campaign plan to try to do so. The problem comes where more than one local party is involved as this can cause disputes about which council seats are targeted and what and whose resources are spent where. I really think we would be better off having one local party across local Council areas rather than basing them on constituencies as this would lead to better more widely supported decisions on local campaigning both for local and Westminster elections. For Westminster Seats targeting is a little more tricky as its not always clear which are the most winnable seats and we have to work on even wider geographical areas such as regions and we also have to concern ourselves more with overall national vote share.
    I think the issue is that since the 2010 election we have been fighting such a rearguard action in defending both local and Westminster seats we held that it has not been possible to have many development seats that will be future target seats at both local and general elections like we have had in the past. This has lead to 8 years where much campaigning activity has occurred in the same few local council and parliamentary seats. Which has frustrated many local campaigners but it was necessary as we needed every possible hand to the pumps in our held and target seats, both local and Westminster, to stand any chance of holding them or even gaining some. Since 2015 we have started to make gains at local elections and local by-elections so we should at least be expanding our target pool of local seats again, however for Westminster unfortunately most of our current winnable seats will be our former held seats so it will again seem like it’s the same few seats being favoured which I can appreciate is frustrating but the alternative under FPTP is to spread our resources more thinly and make no gains or worse lose seats. I would say though that its also very frustrating working in a target seat and seeing volunteer effort being expended in a neighbouring constituency which would not even be considered as a development seat currently (no local LD councillors, 4th place or lower at last election etc) rather than that effort being spent helping to win/retain the target seat.

  • Peter Andrews 1st Feb '18 - 5:30pm

    Some people seem to be trying to rewrite history to blame targeting for our collapse. When the opposite is true, it is the reason we managed to get a large increase in MPs in 1997 and continued to make gains overall in 2001 and 2005 and the reason we managed to hold on to any seats at all in 2015 and 2017. In the 2010 election we made a mess of targeting in the aftermath of cleggmania, as far as I am aware we expanded our pool of target seats thinking we would capitalise on our new found popularity, this led to too many seats being targeted late on without the infrastructure having been built up properly to capitalise on this and spreading our resources too widely resulting in us actually making a net loss of seats despite getting a higher vote share than in 2005 and both main parties being pretty unpopular at the time. I would be willing to bet if we had stuck to our original targeting strategy we would have gained seats overall again.

  • Peter Andrews 1st Feb '18 - 5:31pm

    From 2010 its our then Leader’s disastrous handling of being in Coalition which has done for us and targeting is the only reason we still exist as a parliamentary party at all. We ran a general election campaign in 2010 with “no more broken promises” and breaking the hegemony of the other two parties (Labservatives anyone?) as a high profile part of the campaign, we promised to at least campaign against tuition fees in parliament . We then went and formed a coalition government with one of the Labservative parties (not that I see that as a mistake or that we had much choice, the mistake is how we handled the 201 election and being in Coalition). and broke our tuition fees promise when in Government by not only not campaigning against them but trippling the headline amount charged (I know that is far from the whole story on how the system works but tying to explain a policy detail against £9000 fees headlines is never going to work). We also decided it would be a good idea to back other toxic policies like Lansley’s NHS reforms and the bedroom tax when these were obvious things we should have vetoed outright given they were not mentioned in the coalition agreement. Strangely the electorate don’t tend to forgive these kind of things too readily and we unsurprisingly got very heavily punished at the 2015 election and no amount of targeting could save many of our seats however we messed up the targeting strategy and overtargeted for a second election in a row when it was clear many of our seats were lost but other nearby might have been saved by movng resources.

    2017 was a different case again as we were such a small party nationally in terms of seats that voters were only really looking at who they wanted to form the Government and deciding they we would be able to make little difference nationally, being a good MP and having a high local profile, local issues etc made little difference if the constituency electoral mathematics were against you.

    So far from targeting being damaging to our Party is has been the saving of it and will be the only way we can rebuild.

  • @OnceALibDem

    “Sometimes message can do that alone (Trump? Discuss :-), sometimes volume alone”

    I think you need both – but one of them can go wrong.

    I am not an expert on the minutiae of American politics – but I think it something of a myth that he did not have a strong ground game. He linked into that of the Republicans for the General Election which had been developed over recent years.

    Obviously during the primaries he achieved volume particularly by appearing on the cable news networks and through um… twitter.

    Interestingly for the General election he targeted to get electoral college votes despite losing the popular vote rather better than Clinton!

  • paul barker 1st Feb '18 - 6:05pm

    Can I suggest that constantly obsessing about the dead past is damaging our Party ?

  • @ Paul Barker I’m afraid it’s unfortunate, but the electorate (with some justification) do, Paul.

    What do you suggest ? A’ flying the flag’ candidate making the effort to fill in a nomination form in every Council ward in an attempt to break the 2% barrier next May in England ?

  • Peter Andrews 1st Feb '18 - 8:58pm

    As a member from Leeds NW who has been active in every general election since 2005 and was delivering leaflets in the constituency way before that I also feel the need to rebut some of what others including Michael Meadowcroft have said.

    The Lib Dems held 26 council seats across Leeds after all out elections in 2004, the most seats we have ever held in the City. Leeds NW Constituency had 9 of these Lib Dem Councillors out of a total of 12 Councillors in the constituency. With no local elections in 2005 Lib Dems from across the whole city worked together along with others from further afield to take Leeds NW off Labour from 3rd place.

    Between 2005 and 2010 far from Leeds NW sucking up all the campaigning resources the Council Group even employed an organiser for the rest of the city, to support the 14 held seats in other constituencies, who was based in our constituency office (we also hosted the local print society). Leeds NW members also supported by election campaigns in other parts of the city in the hope of winning more Lib Dem seats on the Council. This included a by-election in a ward in Leeds West. Unfortunately we did not make gains despite coming close in at least two by election campaigns. Leeds NW ran our own local election campaigns during this time period without much outside help beyond councillors and candidates for our wards who lived elsewhere in the city.

    In 2010 Leeds NW was a potential 3 way fight with all 3 main parties capable winning, the Tories actually came 2nd with Labour a close 3rd. In the end we won a with a much larger majority than we expected partly as Cleggmania boosted us as it increased our votes amongst the younger voters inc students in Headingley ward and partly as we ran a great local campaign squeezing Tories up in the North of the Constituency telling them the couldn’t win here and Greg Mulholland had also established a reputation as a great local MP. This excellent result was masterminded by the party employee whom Michael Meadowcroft saw fit to defame in the original version of his article.

  • Peter Andrews 1st Feb '18 - 9:00pm

    No other seat in Leeds was winnable in 2010 and certainly not Leeds West where we had precisely no local councillors and whilst in 2nd place we had come over 12000 votes behind the winning Labour MP in 2005. As such I would wholeheartedly support the reported stance of our MP at the time Greg Mulholland in refusing to support us running more than a minimal campaign elsewhere in the City, which simply would have been a futile effort and risked us losing in Leeds NW or our other held seat locally Harrogate. The only viable complaint anyone could level at us is that Harrogate should have received more help from across the region than it did as a change of candidate there lead to us losing Harrogate whilst we ended up with a healthy majority in Leeds NW. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though, at the time it felt like we were the ones more at risk.

    As a local party our plan after 2010 would have been to start supporting another local seat to repay the effort others had put into help us win and retain Leeds NW as we felt we had established ourselves and got a good majority to defend. Unfortunately the coalition effect put pay to that and by 2015 whilst Leeds NW had managed to hold onto 6 out of our 9 local councillors the rest of the City which had refused to target in any of the 3 sets of local elections from 2011 had lost 8 out of the 11 councillors they had left after losing 3 in 2010. We needed great support from region, and activists from other local parties to pull off the amazing victory we managed in 2015 against incredible odds when seats with much longer Liberal history and much larger majorities fell. The same was even more true in 2017 but this time the national picture was just too much for our local efforts to counter.

    Basically I don’t think you can possibly justifiably blame Leeds NW being a target seat for the lack of campaigning capacity left in other constituencies in Leeds. I would actually lay the blame for that on the coalition effect and the complete failure to target in the rest of Leeds in local elections from 2011 onwards.

  • OnceALibDem 1st Feb '18 - 9:03pm

    “I am not an expert on the minutiae of American politics – but I think it something of a myth that he did not have a strong ground game.”

    Very possibly – I’ve not seen much analysis of this (hence the ? mark) particularly in how he broke down the ‘blue wall’ in Michigan, wisconsin et al

  • Katharine Pindar 1st Feb '18 - 9:59pm

    With due respect for my elders and betters – meaning party members who have been whole-hearted activists for many years – I am troubled by a suggestion of existential angst arising here. Michael, however, seems to be able to review past and present with realism and practicality, referring to successful national targetting and successful national strategy up to 2010, and being clear-eyed about the present. (It would be interesting to know, Michael, where you are currently based in your Liberal Democrat activism.)

    Having been myself only fully active again since May 2015, I am thinking that the large number of members who have joined us since then might be similarly surprised and slightly dismayed by the downbeat tone I have mentioned. In these latter years I have seen Liberal Democrat values proudly proclaimed in our Fightback, have listened many times to an inspiring Leader who is Liberal to his core and social liberal at that, have seen and appreciated the dedication and commitment of hundreds of members at Conferences where dawn to night involvement could not cover all the valuable events available, and have appreciated the distillation of so many excellent policies in the GE Manifesto. So we had a setback in June, for reasons that do not doom us for the future. What then? Now we have reasons for optimism, knowing how firm are our values, how worthwhile is our outlook, and how right our political approach is in this vital year, especially set against this decrepit government and devious divided official opposition. We have the capacity to inspire many more of those instinctively Liberal, in the exciting months to come, so let us get to the task with positivity.

  • ““I am not an expert on the minutiae of American politics – but I think it something of a myth that he did not have a strong ground game.”

    Very possibly – I’ve not seen much analysis of this (hence the ? mark) particularly in how he broke down the ‘blue wall’ in Michigan, wisconsin et al”

    This is getting slightly off-topic! But googling I did find a series of interesting series of articles at the fivethirtyeight website at https://fivethirtyeight.com/tag/the-real-story-of-2016/ which I thought worth mentioning as people here might be interested in them.

    Among them at http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-real-story-of-2016/ it looks at the journalist’s views before the election that the electoral college gave Clinton an advantage because of the “blue wall”. And says that fivethirtyeight’s view pre and post-election was that the electoral college represented a particular vulnerability for Clinton because her voters were DISPROPORTIONATELY concentrated OUTSIDE swing states” (my emphasis).

    So the “blue wall” was something of a media myth as well. The electoral college of course re-emphasises the importance of targeting when you have First Past the Post winner takes all mechanisms.

    My original comment was because there was media coverage that Trump had fewer field offices than Clinton – my understanding is that actually he was using the Republican offices whereas Romney had built his own network four years earlier.

    Obviously “volume” in the US can also be built outside of the “ground game” for the two main parties through TV ads, media coverage etc. in a way that is not really available for a third party in this country.

  • Michael Meadowcroft 2nd Feb '18 - 10:02am

    Colleagues have been kind enough to comment on earlier postings and to ask questions that deserve a response.

    Ruth Bright suggests that I “can be forgiven for plugging my own pamphlets.” Actually is was Paul Hunt who was plugging my “Liberalism and the Left”! I have only ever written on Liberalism to fill vacuums. I would much prefer the easy life of using wonderful literature from HQ. Alas, there isn’t any! Is there a current analysis of Corbynism – or even an extended statement of Liberal Values since 1992 (which we had to publish in Leeds and which has sold really well.) The best current statement of the latter is the excellent and updated Liberal International Manifesto 2017, available from https://liberal-international.org/who-we-are/our-mission/landmark-documents/political-manifestos/liberal-manifesto-2017/

    Michael suggests there should have been more targeting for Leeds West from the national party between 1983-87. Actually all we needed was a full-time agent in the constituency to keep all the Party plates spinning. There were bigger political problems harming us. Having won from Labour we were particularly damaged by the Alliance. Voters kept saying to me, “You’ve always told us to vote against these Labour people and now your in alliance with them.” Also I remember vividly canvassing a council estate when it was on the radio that David Owen had stated that he would prefer to work with Mrs Thatcher than with Neil Kinnock. It was disastrous in the depths of inner city Leeds!

    Michael states that “Nor does targeting preclude people working in their own seats.” I have explained how it does precisely that, as did Mick Taylor.

    Nick Collins wants to read suggestions on how to rebuild Liberal Democrat representation post-coalition. I have done precisley that – see above, yesterday, at 10.21.

  • Michael Meadowcroft 2nd Feb '18 - 10:02am

    Paul Andrews recalls the initiatives across Leeds when we had 26 councillors across the city. He is perfectly correct and I was asked to take on chairing the city-wide organisation. I had an excellent local team, committed to visiting every assocaition, cajoling them, advising them and pump-priming their campaigns. This was funded by the levy on Councillors’ allowances. Suddenly the Councillors ended this funding and purported to spend it themselves. Since then there has been no citywide party organisation!

    Katherine Pindar asks where I am currently basing by Liberal Democrat activity. I have had enough of the pretences of national party fantasies and I am now only prepared to work in Leeds West and am working to revive the organisation on every ward. We have a few dedicated colleagues and we are determined! It would help if we could extract a current list of members from HQ! Even the basic seem to be difficult. I am, of course, as ever, keen to respond to every invitation to speak anywhere in Britain to promote Liberal values.

  • Peter Andrews 2nd Feb '18 - 12:53pm

    Its a bit hard to fund Citywide campaigns from a levy on Councillors allowances when your Council base goes from 26 to 9 Councillors. Maybe if those funds had been spent in a better and more targetted manner from 2011 to 2015 then there would have been more Councillors left to levy allowances from.

  • @Michael Meadowcroft

    Thanks for your responses and also many thanks for your work for Liberalism over the years!

    “Michael suggests there should have been more targeting for Leeds West from the national party between 1983-87. Actually all we needed was a full-time agent in the constituency to keep all the Party plates spinning.”

    This does continue to suggest more targeting was needed if the local party itself was not able to fund it!

    Your subsequent point does back up the need for a national strategy as well that works as well. I became political interested during the Alliance years and wouldn’t be a Lib Dem without it but it does point the need for a strategy that became better honed post-92 and may be one leader (that is not David Owen)!

    “Michael states that “Nor does targeting preclude people working in their own seats.” I have explained how it does precisely that, as did Mick Taylor.”

    The implication from your initial article was that the targeting being advocated was that people should abandon their own constituencies – and this is not the case. Indeed one of the further advantages is that it can raise the bar on their ideas for their own seat.

    Many thanks again for all your work – work from you and others without which I and many others might not be involved in politics and commiserations on not winning in 1987 (even if that comes a little late!!!!)

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Feb '18 - 10:20pm

    Footnote: there are so many excellent Michaels in this party that it is not always clear to whom one is writing! I am so glad, MM, that you are continuing to build up Leeds West, and am admiring of all your activity there, as well as your writing here. But I was actually asking ‘Michael’ about himself, where his Lib Dem work is based, since I had not been aware of him before but found his comments here useful, as I have written above. It is a little confusing also that there is a ‘Michael’ in the Members’ Forum who is not you, Michael. Perhaps you could add an initial when posting?

  • paul holmes 3rd Feb '18 - 12:30am

    @Michael 7.09pm. Ref the ‘Targeting precluding people working in their own seats’. You are correct, it never used to try and do that and even when it got a bit more heavy handed in 2015/17 you simply cannot force volunteers to move somewhere else. I for one made my own mind up about where I would campaign in 2017. For Targeting to work in terms of volunteers moving it has to be based on explanation, persuasion and consent -not demands from the centre.

    I also agree that if ‘the Party’ had provided funds for a full time Agent in Leeds West 1983-7 as Michael Meadowcroft suggested or simply ‘money’ in 2010 as Mick Taylor suggested, than that would have been the very Targeting that they said they opposed. In the 1980’s the Liberal Party simply did not Target anyway (and there were no sweeping electoral victories as a ‘Thousand Flowers Bloomed’ untended), so it wasn’t an issue. In 2010 it would have meant diverting money from somewhere else to a Constituency where we came well behind Labour.

  • Nick Collins 3rd Feb '18 - 2:53pm

    “Nick Collins wants to read suggestions on how to rebuild Liberal Democrat representation post-coalition. I have done precisley that – see above, (on 1 February), at 10.21.”

    With respect, Michael Meadowcroft, you have not. What you set out in that post is all very fine. It may be helpful as part of the process required to rebuild the party and to enthuse members; but it will not, of itself, win a single seat.

    It does not preclude, nor is it a substitute for, effective targeting, but it could be extremely useful if combined with the approach outlined above by Paul Holmes at 12.30 a.m.

  • paul holmes 3rd Feb '18 - 4:16pm

    Nick, you are right. Michael Meadowcroft’s prescription of lots of Local Party meetings talking about principles and philosophy is important in itself and Your Liberal Britain are a ‘non greybeard’ group taking the same route. I thoroughly enjoyed the Derbyshire meeting last autumn where I met Michael for the first time. A couple of weeks ago my constituency held a policy discussion event organised by our new Membership Development Officer Emily Coy an excellent new member who joined after the 2015 election. We also hold a monthly ‘Pint and Politics’ session and have been doing so since long before 2015 when some claim the ‘Newbies’ invented the idea!

    But such discussion groups, interesting and important as they are do not directly win a single vote or a single election. Philosophy, principle and policy brainstorming have to also come into the real world of fighting and winning elections. Otherwise we would be a debating society not a Political Party. Oliver Cromwell famously declared that “I would rather have a plain russett coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows….” but he also went to great pains to train the New Model Army in the gritty reality of fighting to win.

  • Richard Underhill 24th May '20 - 6:06pm

    “Why targeting has damaged the Party
    By Michael Meadowcroft | Tue 30th January 2018 – 12:49 pm”

    It was obvious from what our previous leader said in the Commons that we were targeting St Albans. Usually rival parties can deduce that from the volume of literature.
    We can deduce from the review that a large volume of leaflets shows that our local party was targeted second.

    In 2015 I mostly worked in the nearest target seat, which was the last one to lose its target status, with a speech from Paddy Ashdown and a second speech for other helpers, in English. The Tories held the seat.

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