Sunday, July 07, 2024

This time the Lib Dem leadership kept its discipline during the election campaign

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The Liberal Democrats' targeting strategy was an extraordinary success. I believe Jeremy Hunt's Godalming and Ash was the only seat to evade us.

Those who devised the strategy and communicated the rationale for it to the membership deserve congratulation.

In some quarters there was clearly a worry that the membership would lose discipline and start campaigning in their own constituencies rather than work in the target seats they were asked to.

But the striking contrast with 2019 this time round was that the Lib Dem leadership kept its discipline.

In retrospect - and Michael Mullaney said so on this blog immediately after the election - the change from backing a second referendum to a policy of revoking Brexit was a mistake. But it was approved enthusiastically enough by that autumn's party conference.

That was not true of the decision to allow Boris Johnson the general election he craved, which was described by Nick Harvey as "a catastrophic mistake".

Nor was it true of Jo Swinson's declaration at our campaign launch for the 2019 election that she could be the next prime minister.

And our targeting strategy in 2019? Liberator 397, the September 2019 issue, asked:

Are some people getting carried away by trying to extrapolate the European election results into Westminster terms and then wondering how randomly first-past-the-post might work with four parties in contention?

A briefing to peers indicated a startlingly high number of seats shown as potentially winnable in some scenarios if such trends continued. This has led to some seats suddenly being judged winnable that look, to put it politely, speculative.

These include Battersea (8 per cent), Chipping Barnet (5.4 per cent and a close Tory-Labour marginal too) and even more remarkably Cardiff North (3.3 per cent).

I think the answer to that question was yes.

Five years later it's wonderful how far we have come thanks to a leader with good judgement and a consistent strategy that has been properly communicated to members.


Anonymous said...

I got the impression we were targeting 50 seats, and were successful in 49. Add that to the 14 we already held, and that makes 63. Of the remaining 9, which were not top-tier targeted seats? Which one was the surprise gain of the night? Chichester? North East Hants? Stratford on Avon? It would be good to learn how they won with less help from HQ than some of the other winners received.

Jonathan Calder said...

I believe the number of target seats was increased during the campaign when it became clear the Conservative vote was crumbling.

Anonymous said...

While it's hard to argue with the overall thrust of this post, it is perhaps worth asking whether we would have had so many winnable second places this time round if the previous election's strategy had been more disciplined.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to note that the list of target seats was increased. That's obviously either a) an excellent response to changing circumstances if it succeeds, or b) an abject failure of discipline if it fails!
Obviously, the problems of planning, targeting and discipline are very real, and I am glad I don't have to cope with them. However, in my opinion, it ought to be the realistic target in every election campaign to save all of our deposits. For a national party to lose so many deposits undermines our opinion of ourselves - and this is even more the case in by elections.

John Tilley said...

72 LibDem MPs.
A success for targeting?
Or something else?
Checkout how we elected an MP for Melksham.
And that is not the only constituency which elected an MP by ignoring the Mark Pack inadequate knowledge of how to win elections.
Tory and SNP seats were falling to Labour by default because our people were being instructed to go to target seats.
I would suggest that seats which ended up with majorities of between 10 thousand and 20 thousand is NOT evidence of a good targeting strategy.
But what do I know other than the bleeding obvious.

Matt Pennell said...

I'm sure the debate about what we should have done in 2019 with hindsight will run and run. I'd like to point out two key factors that fed into our very ambitious strategy. Whether you think what happened in 2019 was right or wrong, you really need to consider the following:

1) The opinion polls after the May 2019 locals oscillated wildly, and as Change UK fizzled out it became a four-way fight nationally, until the Brexit Party decided to stand down in hundreds of seats. That made it impossible to predict the outcome of the election. Our high watermark included a few polls over 20% but there was no clear pattern

2) There was a Lib Dem membership surge between 2015 and 2019, and in the summer of 2019 we reached 125,000 members and 20,000 supporters. There was an assumption that the same % of members would come out and campaign hard as in previous elections. Sadly that wasn't the case. many new members stayed at home. Those members then made very convoluted excuses and left us in 2020/2021. Sometimes having never met anyone associated with the party in person and never lifting a finger to help in the real world