LDV members’ survey, August 2008 (1): the Lib Dems and by-elections

by Stephen Tall on August 4, 2008

All this week, Lib Dem Voice will be publishing the results of our first ever survey of party members. Some 135 of you accessed the survey via our private members’ forum. We don’t pretend it’s a representative sample, but that doesn’t mean it’s without value either. We hope you, LDV’s readers, find it interesting. Perhaps the wider party will, too. This is the first in what we intend to be a monthly survey – if you have ideas for future survey questions, please email me at stephen@libdemvoice.org.

We began by asking about the party’s performance in recent by-elections.

LDV asked: The Lib Dems did not win any of the three by-elections held in the last three months which the party contested: Crewe and Nantwich, Henley and Glasgow East. What do you think is the single biggest reason for this?

Here’s how you rated the five options on offer:

* The Lib Dem moment has passed: the rise of Cameron, Lib Dem leadership troubles and the passing of Iraq as a vote-defining issue means our influence is waning. 20%
* None of the three seats were winnable prospects: in the circumstances the party did pretty much as well as it could. 34%
* The other political parties have copied Lib Dem campaigning techniques: as a result, the party’s by-election machine is no longer the envy of our rivals. 12%
* The party’s campaigns failed to give the voters enough positive reasons for voting Lib Dem: our tactics were too negative and dominated by parochial local issues. 21%
* The Lib Dems have failed to show they are the effective opposition to Labour: as a result, voters wanting to punish the Government have turned to the Tories instead. 20%

We also gave you the chance to add comments to back up your answers. Many of you noted, for example, that you would have liked to pick more than one option (perhaps not surprisingly, as each was deliberately picked because there’s at least a grain of truth in them all). Here’s a selection of your other thoughts:

• Our moment has only passed for now. The Tories got in first and took the initiative in Crewe. Henley was always a very long-shot we would have needed a big anti-Tory issue to win there. SNP better placed and on a high for Glasgow East.
• We have had a particularly bad run of luck in where these by-elections have been held. With the Tories on a roll and the other two seats being clear fights between other parties we weren’t going to win. However we are also hampered by the Tories understanding how to campaign and us not having a clear message for each seat.
• Feel that there has been a regression to two-party politics and that proportional representation is probably essential if Lib Dems are to become effective. Maybe Gordon Brown could be persuaded that PR would stop a Cameron landslide.
• I believe our campaigning skill has actually gone backwards. Election organisers measure success by the number of pieces of paper that go out, not its impact.
• The focus has shifted from punishing Labour (best served by a Lib Dem vote) to actually getting rid of them (for which you need to vote Conservative)
• We are not getting the national media reporting the positives so we are being reported as either irrelevant or failing
• In Henley we would have needed big by mistakes by the Tories. In the other two we’d have needed a miracle.
• Henley was the only remotely winnable one – and that would have been extra hard in the face of the Tory upsurge. We shouldn’t get all het up about these 3 by-elections; let’s wait for something juicier!
• we do need to refine our campaigning techniques as well.
• The lack of positive issues is the key but we also need to do more on being the positive alternative to Labour and refining our by-election strategy
• It’s not the campaign tactics, it’s what we’re selling
• These answers are not mutually exclusive. By-elections have not been in the right place for us, but our campaign technique has not been distinctive enough got us to break through.
• We got caught up in tactics and missed the strategy… credible opposition to Gordon needs to be paired with differences vs. the Tories…
• People are voting against Labour and the Tories in England and SNP in Scotland are seen as the main opposition
• Well, in Glasgow East they turned to the Nats, but the principle is much the same. We aren’t the “Let’s beat Labour” party, the Tories are.
• The other parties are copying the Lib Dem techniques, the party doesn’t give voters a narrative and has failed to be an Opposition to Labour but the last two points were true for a long while and the party still did fairly well. With the rise of the Tories we are really struggling. We need a very big radical change in terms of how we communicate to the public. Otherwise, it is a return to two-party politics.
• We win seats where we’re in second to the government. Next time one of those comes up we’ll win.
• I really want to tick more than one here. Why can’t I select my choices using STV :-)