UPDATED: Full list of Lib Dems standing in our held seats and top 50 targets

by Stephen Tall on September 20, 2014

We’re less than 8 months away from the May 2015 election so here’s my latest running check on how candidate selection is going in our held and key target seats…

Lib Dems winning hereI published a first draft of this list a year ago, and asked readers to help me update it. Many thanks to those of you who have helped me keep it updated, including the party’s Candidates Services Office. Here’s the latest version of the list of (re-)selections in our held seats and the top 50 targets for the party.

It’s a snapshot of how the party’s doing in getting people in place in the battleground seats that will determine the extent of Lib Dem influence in the next parliament:

Held seats: 55/57 MPs re-selected or candidates selected where MPs retiring (96%); 8/57 MPs retiring (14%) – 8 successors selected.

Top targets from Tories: 21/27 candidates selected (78%).

Top targets from Labour: 17/23 candidates selected (74%). Read the rest of this entry »

Meanwhile, in Clacton… Meet the Lib Dems’ by-election candidate, Andy Graham

by Stephen Tall on September 20, 2014

andy-graham-at-clacton-lib-dem-officeEvents in Scotland have rather dominated these past few weeks, but we shouldn’t forget there’s another election soon to take place: the by-election in Clacton triggered by Douglas Carswell’s defection from the Tories to Ukip.

Early polls shows Carswell is the front-runner to retain the seat in his new colours. The local Lib Dems have selected a candidate to fly the party’s colours: Andy Graham, “a former teacher in Clacton [who] has performed in shows at the Clacton’s West Cliff Theatre”.

Details of how you can help Andy in Clacton are as follows:

After all, gotta love a candidate whose website says this:

Andy Graham brought the stage version of Sense and Sensibilty to Clacton’s West Cliff Theatre 10 years ago and says “I am hoping to bring some Sense and Sensibilty to Clacton in this by-election”.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Liberal Villain of the Month: Greg Dyke

by Stephen Tall on September 20, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf villain greg dyke

Greg Dyke

Chairman, Football Association
Reason: for proposing immigration restrictions on non-EU footballers

When in doubt, blame the foreigners. It’s an attitude I expect from some on the unthinking right (and indeed left). But somehow I hoped better of Greg Dyke, a one-time Lib Dem member and donor. Yet he too has now joined the evidence-free clamour for English football clubs to bar footballers from beyond the European Union because immigrants.

“The rules say elite non-European players – the very best – should be allowed to come in and we agree with that. What we are saying is there are a lot that aren’t [the very best], that don’t play that much and do take squad places, and a lot particularly in the Football League disappear after a year or so. The system doesn’t work. What we are saying is, ‘Let the best players come in but give the rest of those squad places to young English kids’.”

Who could be against English clubs bringing on young, home-grown talent? Not me. But his argument is shoddy. Who, after all, decides which non-EU players count as mediocre? Surely that should be up to the clubs themselves, not the FA. And that the restriction can apply only to non-EU nationals will necessarily discriminate against footballers from poorer nations. Besides, what’s to stop the clubs simply topping up their stock of ‘mediocre’ players from the EU if they really want to?

As Len Shackleton has persuasively argued:

Why should interest groups like the FA be allowed to influence immigration policy? The argument that English workers perform better when protected from competition from immigrants, many of whom are ‘mediocre’ anyway, might be used by every occupation if we accepted Mr Dyke’s dubious logic. I’ve known some pretty duff non-EU academics working in UK universities, but I don’t argue that we should keep them from applying for jobs here. We have some pretty duff academics of our own.

Every year about 200,000 Brits go abroad to work, and I think it’s great that they can do so. Most come back here much better for the experience. Why don’t any significant numbers of English footballers do the same? At the same time, about 200,000 come here to work and if they can do jobs as well or better than our natives, good luck to them. They benefit themselves and, to an extent, our economy. The net immigration figures which politicians are so concerned about are largely the consequence of big numbers of incoming students and family reunions: few of our emigrants leave to study or join families. A rational immigration policy would look at the overall picture rather than trying to outguess the market in determining which type of workers (including footballers) to let in.

Nor is there any evidence that the presence of foreign footballers negatively impacts the English game – see, for instance, Ben Southwood’s review here.

I’ll leave the last word to Roberto Martinez, manager of my team Everton:

“I don’t think having quotas is the best way to develop young English footballers, which is something all clubs want to do. The best way to do that is to develop the game at Under-16 to Under-19 level.”

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Liberal Hero of the Week #75: Jim Murphy

by Stephen Tall on September 20, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero jim murphy

Jim Murphy

Labour MP for East Renfrewshire
Reason: for taking his ‘No Thanks’ message to the people

The Scottish independence referendum campaign is over (at least for a few years), rejected decisively 55%-45%, albeit more narrowly than Westminster’s politicians anticipated when they agreed to it.

The campaign itself has not always been edifying. There was, for instance, the second televised debate which descended into an inaudible shouting match (mostly owing to Alex Salmond’s hectoring). More sinisterly, a YouGov poll found that 46 per cent of No supporters and 24 per cent of Yes supporters felt personally threatened by the opposing side’s campaign during the referendum.

But there have been bright spots too and I’m going to highlight one: Jim Murphy, the Labour MP for East Renfrewshire, whose ‘100 streets in 100 days’ soapbox tour of Scotland was probably the most energetic part of the Better Together campaign. It wasn’t his message that I found especially heroic – I’m an agnostic on Scottish independence – but the manner of his crusade.

““It has been real people from all sides of the debate having passionate discussions. It works best when there is genuine disagreement and heated questioning,” he commented. Though it was disrupted by Yes Scotland heckles and sometimes eggs – forcing Murphy at one point to suspend the tour on police advice – he saw it through. He showed leadership, genuine engagement with the public and not a little bravery. That’s why he’s my choice for this week’s Liberal Hero.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 4

by Stephen Tall on September 20, 2014

Congratulations to George Murray, whose Marauding Fullbacks lead the LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League after Week 4 with an impressive 264 points. That puts him in 4,909th place in the global league of more than 3.2 million players.

Just three points then separate the next four players and fewer than 20 points the entire top 10. For the record, I’m languishing at 29th, not helped by my insane decision not to make Diego Costa my team captain in the week he scored a hat-trick. Ah well. At the other end of the table, by the way, Ceredigion Premier is ranked last, with 53 points. Still, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

fantasy football wk 4

There are 145 players in total and you can join the league by clicking here.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

What to look out for at the parties’ conferences?

by Stephen Tall on September 19, 2014

That’s the question I was asked – alongside Charles Clarke (former Labour cabinet minister), Andrew Cooper (newly-appointed peer and Director of Strategy at No 10 from 2011 to 2013), and Craig Woodhouse (Political Correspondent at The Sun on Sunday) – by MHP Communications after our lates political panel yesterday. Here’s what we all said

All three parties’ worst nightmare – winning the next election: my ‘what happens’ next predictions…

by Stephen Tall on September 19, 2014

con home cartoonHere’s my latest The Other Side column for ConservativeHome, published here last week – but I forgot to post it here too. My thanks as ever to the site’s editors, Paul Goodman and Mark Wallace, for giving a Lib Dem space to provoke – constructively, I hope.

Forget trying to forecast the 2015 general election. We already know what will happen then. What matters now to the parties is thinking ahead to what happens afterwards.

When I say we know about the 2015 election already, I don’t actually mean I know who wins. How could I? But it can be pinned down to one of three likely outcomes. There will be either (1) a Conservative minority / small-majority government or (2) a Labour minority / small-majority government or (3) some form of coalition involving the Lib Dems and either Conservatives or Labour.

That’s pretty obvious, you might say: it leaves more or less everything up for grabs. And you’d be quite right. So why am I more interested in what happens after 2015 when my election forecast is about as useful as saying there’s a 50% chance of rain?

Here’s why: there’s not an awful lot that the politicians can do at this stage to alter the fundamentals of the next election. For sure, they will of course continue to campaign: try and pull policy rabbits out of hats, gear up for televised leaders’ debates (that may or may not happen), publish manifestos few will read, pound pavements and deliver leaflets to weary voters. These activities will make some difference. And as these marginal gains could, seat by seat, shift the result — from enforced coalition to viable minority rule, or from viable minority rule to plausible majority rule — it makes sense for the parties to do what they can to shift the needle in their direction.

But, with just over six months til the election, there are unlikely to be game-changers (with the possible exception of a Scottish Yes vote, but I don’t expect that to happen). The leaders are all known quantities — David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have led their respective parties for nine, seven and four years — as are their parties’ positions on the big issues. The election cake is baked, it’s just awaiting the voters to put the icing on top.

It’s sometimes said this will be the first election since 1992 when the result is utterly unpredictable. This is only half-true. (And even then only if we over-look the fact that in 1997 few could quite bring themselves to believe the opinion polls that pointed to a Labour landslide: most expected a much tighter finish.)

There is one outcome most predict with near-certainty: that neither Labour nor the Conservatives will win a convincing majority. And it is this fact which means canny politicians need to start thinking ahead to the election after next, and working back from what they hope to achieve then in order to decide what they should do next. Or ‘have a strategy’ as it’s often known.

Let’s have a canter through the three possible 2015 outcomes to see what they mean for what follows after:

(1) A Conservative minority / small-majority government.

This is Cameron’s best hope and worst nightmare simultaneously. Winning, or almost winning, would be regarded as a triumph given the years of austerity; just as it was when John Major beat the odds in 1992 against the backdrop of recession. And yet, as then, it’s hard to see how the Prime Minister could hope to lead his party afterwards.

The December 2017 deadline of an in/out EU referendum would start ticking immediately. A substantial minority of Tory MPs and members now support total withdrawal, and they favour it with real fervour. Douglas Carswell’s defection to Ukip is simply a taster of the turmoil that awaits any attempt by Cameron to gloss minor concessions from our European partners as anything like enough. Yet Cameron no more wants to be remembered as the man who accidentally led the UK out of the EU than he does as the man who accidentally un-United the Kingdom. Cameron has tried and failed throughout his leadership to tame his feral backbenchers. He can continue to do so after 2015, but he must know it’s a forlorn task which will leave him unable to achieve anything of real note in government.

What should Cameron do? Stop trying pacify the unpacifiable, and instead lead a fight-back for the centrist, mainstream, pragmatic Toryism he believes in and which saw John Major win the biggest Conservative vote in history.

(2) A Labour minority / small-majority government

The polls say this is still the most likely outcome; though the electoral models which factor in the tendency of oppositions to cede votes to governing parties in the final year say not. If it happens, it will be a tribute of sorts to Labour’s 35% strategy: the belief/hope that the party can win by adding to its 29% vote last time 6% of 2010 Lib Dem voters who’ve since switched to backing them. There has been little attempt to win over the voters of Clacton (lost to the Tories in 2005); far more to wooing Cambridge (lost to the Lib Dems in 2005). What was Ed Miliband’s first pledge? A promise to reduce tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 a year, a policy which does nothing at all to help students from the poorest backgrounds but which may play well with the better off middle-classes.

But the strategy may well work: according to Lord Ashcroft’s polling, Labour is besting the Tories in the seats that matter most: the battleground marginals. And then what? Well, then there will follow five years’ disappointment for Labour’s supporters. Austerity will continue, at least if Ed Balls is to stick to his deficit reduction plans. Only half the spending cuts have so far been implemented; the second half are bound to be more painful. No more easy pinning the blame on the ‘ConDems’, Labour will have to take some actual responsibility for the state of the economy. Having spent four years lulling their voters into believing all will be made better simply by evicting Cameron, Clegg and Osborne from power, Labour will find itself assaulted on all fronts.

The Tories, united in opposition behind a Better-Off-Out leader; Ukip, appealing to ‘left behind’ voters in Labour’s run-down heartlands; the Lib Dems and Greens, vying to win back the urban professionals — all will harry Ed Miliband, vulnerable to revolts on his own side from Unite-sponsored hard-left MPs and those fearing for their own seats. How will a Miliband-led Government cope with all this? Simple: it won’t.

What should Miliband do? Stop pretending to his liberal/left base that voting Labour will wave a magic wand that makes austerity disappear, and start to reclaim the Blairite mantle of sound finances and smarter public services.

(3) Some form of coalition involving the Lib Dems and either Conservatives or Labour.

A hung parliament may be the most likely result of the 2015 election, but a coalition seems the least likely outcome. Another Lib-Con alliance? Neither party is likely to wear it. A Lib-Lab pact? Possible (and there’s plenty of policy overlap) but Labour’s visceral loathing of my party makes it hard to imagine.

And then there’s Nick Clegg. As I’ve written before, he is now an obstacle to the Lib Dems continuing in government: unable to sell a deal with the Tories to his party (who wouldn’t trust him with another five years in bed with the Blue Peril), unable to sell a deal with Labour to the public (who wouldn’t trust him to spend five years un-doing with the Red Peril what he’d done in his first five years). His head may be the price of any coalition. But how can a coalition be formed when the party is leaderless?

Far more likely, the party will want to return to opposition, lick its wounds and work out what lessons need to be learned from its first taste of modern Coalition Government. A ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement with the largest minority party – an option I’ve previously dismissed as being the worst of all possible worlds: responsibility without power — will probably end up being the only realistic way in which the Lib Dems can exercise any power at all.

There you have it: my ‘what happens next’ for the three possible 2015 outcomes. If the Tories win, they’ll tear themselves apart. If Labour wins, they’ll be torn apart by others. If neither wins, the Lib Dems will be in no position to pick up the torn apart pieces.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

My must-reads this week September 19, 2014

by Stephen Tall on September 19, 2014

Here’s some of the articles that have caught my attention this week…

Scotland says no to independence: here’s my first thoughts the morning after

by Stephen Tall on September 19, 2014

The people of Scotland have spoken. As that sound echoes, here’s what I think its rejection of independence means…

The SNP are strengthened:

45% of the Scottish electorate voted Yes. That’s a far higher figure than many of us would have predicted even a few weeks ago. Yes Scotland’s campaigning, driven by the SNP, has proved far superior to Better Together’s, driven by Labour. If the Nationalists resist the temptation to turn in on themselves they can expect to reap the electoral rewards of their grassroots activity next May. The Scots, by decisively rejecting independence, have lost their negotiating leverage: I expect them to turn to the SNP as an insurance policy against being forgotten about by Westminster. That poses a big threat to Labour, but also to the Lib Dems — after all, one-fifth of our MPs sit for Scottish seats.

The Tories are weakened…

Did Cameron panic or was it one of those things that seemed a good idea at the time? I’m referring to the ‘vow’ he co-signed with Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, published in the Daily Record, promising more powers for Scotland and the safeguarding of the Barnett Formula financial settlement for Scotland. This opens up a whole Pandora’s Box of constitutional questions which are likely to dominate debate at least until Christmas. That part of it won’t bother Cameron: the irresistible logic of devo-max for Scotland is de facto home rule also for England – in other words, English votes deciding English laws – which, given the Tories’ strength in England, boosts their prospects of remaining in power, at least in the short-term. However, the promise to retain the Barnett Formula is another matter altogether. It offers an obvious opportunity to Nigel Farage to exploit: “It’s right that Scotland should have more powers,” he’ll say, “but it’s also right that there’s a fair financial settlement for the English, too. Public money should be allocated according to need.” And the worst of it is he’s 100% right on this, and he’ll now be the lone voice among the four main party leaders able to make that compelling case to the voters in the lead-up to the next general election. The Tories (as well as the Lib Dems and Labour) have placed ourselves on the wrong side of this issue.

… And so too are Labour:

Ed Miliband’s problem is at least as acute. The weakness of the Better Together campaign has shown the extent to which Labour’s support among its traditional working-class base has atrophied. As the SNP has exploited that in Labour heartlands in Scotland, expect Nigel Farage to do so in Labour’s northern heartlands. This may not be too much of a problem for Labour in 2015. It almost certainly will be by 2020, and Labour shows very little sign of being alert to this potent, existential danger. On top of that, Labour looks like it’ll be wrong-footed by the incipient demands for English-votes-for-English-laws which is already gathering a head of steam. Oppose it (as it seems Labour might try to) and the party will find itself having to try to defend the indefensible. Support it and Labour realises its limited chances of winning a majority of MPs in England (Blair landslides excepted) means it will not be in power even if it finds itself in office after May. A future Labour prime minister may have little choice but to hold discussions with a Tory First Minister of England if it wants to get its legislation on the statute books.

The news isn’t much better for the Lib Dems:

It might be tempting to enjoy a touch of schadenfreude at the other parties’ mounting problems. It might also be tempting – as the one party which has been banging on about constitutional issues for more than a century – to look at the momentum towards federalism as vindication of our stance. However, the big question is (1) the principle: will it be done in a liberal way?, and (2) the practical: will any of it help the party to win power? On (1) the principle, simply giving more powers to politicians in Edinburgh, Cardiff and London isn’t the liberal way of devolving power to local communities – however, it’s probably what the Tories and Labour will try and do and what they’ll stop at. The problem we need to address is over-centralisation of power, not simply the capital city where that power is concentrated. And on (2) the practical, the party appears set on signing up to the continuation of the Barnett Formula despite years of opposing it — Ukip exploiting English resentment at that injustice will apply to Lib Dems as well as to Tories and Labour. It’s another reason why Nick Clegg’s use of Little England as an insult has been misjudged.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Anti-politics: the Lib Dem problem

by Stephen Tall on September 18, 2014

A very interesting blog-post from two Southampton academics, Will Jennings and Jerry Stoker – Parties and anti-politics – examines the problems each of the four parties has with the current mood of anti-politics (hat-tip John Rentoul). Its introduction summarises its argument:

How and why do political parties struggle to ‘get’ anti-politics? They all nod in speeches and policy statements in the direction of public disenchantment with politics but fail to take tackling its causes seriously. UKIP seek to exploit it, the Tories want to wish it away, Labour under Miliband claim innocence and ineptness in their defence, while the Liberal Democrats misread it and think constitutional change is the answer.

The section on the Lib Dems is especially worth highlighting:

With the Liberal Democrats largely dazed and confused as a political force since their decision into the coalition in May 2010, anti-politics is just another problem for a party that has lost its identity and its electoral appeal. They seem particularly at sea in dealing with anti-politics and find it hard to understand why it appears no one likes them anymore. Getting involved in government at the local level was not such a negative experience but the national engagement has made it impossible for activists to present themselves on the side of the angels; they are firmly part of the political elite and have found that an uncomfortable position.

Because traditionally the Liberal Democrats pursued a more positive/optimistic style of politics than their counterparts, especially locally, anti-politics is something of an anathema to them, and as such it is understandable the have not fully been able to comprehend the alienation felt by some. The traditional focus on constitutional reform has become outdated, as the roots of anti-politics attitudes have become better understood as not simply about the electoral system. When asked in focus groups or surveys citizens do not back the idea of constitutional reform among their top choices for political reform.

There’s been some excitement in party circles at the interest triggered in constitutional reform by today’s Scottish independence referendum – and in particular the co-signed vow by Cameron, Clegg and Miliband to legislate for devo-max for Scotland. (What more than a century of liberal campaigning for home rule may not have achieved, a single YouGov poll in The Sunday Times appears to have delivered.)

That’s all fine and dandy: I’m a federalist, a devolver, a power-to-the-people-er. I’d like to see a written constitution, electoral reform, an elected second chamber in place of the House of Lords, a disestablished church, and a republic as well.

However, two things. First, I’m in a minority on most of these issues. I suspect in a referendum on any one of them, I’d be on the losing side. As a democrat, not just a liberal, that should give me pause for thought.

Secondly, even if all these things happened I think there would still be a problem with anti-politics. All my longed-for constitutional tinkering might (I hope) improve the process of politics. But I suspect public antipathy towards its outcomes would remain. Indeed it’s arguable that such things as an elected second chamber and a republic – wit yet more professional politicians – might exacerbate the mood.

None of which means I’ve changed my mind about those things. But I think it’s a category error to believe that the public’s anti-politics mood is driven by the lack of politics in their lives. It’s the type of politics (and perhaps politicians) that’s the bigger issue.

Jennings’ and Stoker’s conclusion sets a stiff challenge, albeit quite a fuzzy one:

None of the main parties get anti-politics. … The first party leader or group of activists who really show an ability to understand the world from another’s perspective and then show a real capacity to shift the way they do politics might indeed reap a considerable reward in support. … the overwhelming sentiment is for a political leadership that is seen engaged, connected and responsive and not driven by spin, self-aggrandisement and connections with big business. People want a representative democracy that works. If a political party could show them how to get that it would be on to a winner.

Easier said than done, of course.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.



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