Month: September 2008

Lembit stands down

The BBC is reporting that Lembit Opik has stood down as the party’s housing spokesman so he can concentrate on campaigning to be party president.  Whilst it will be shame to not have Lembit in the Shadow Cabinet, I think this makes complete sense as it will allow him to catch up with the campaign that Ros Scott has been running so far.

Lembit has had a poor reception in his role as housing spokesman, as shown in a Lib Dem Voice poll earlier this year.  Whilst it is true that Lembit hasn’t had much of a profile in that role (indeed stepping down from it is probably the most publicity he’s had in the job) I don’t think he had done much worse than many of the party’s other members of the Shadow Cabinet.  At the recent party conference Lembit spoke at a fringe meeting organised by CABE, and he seemed to be pretty knowledgeable in his subject.  It could be that he was well briefed by his staff, but the telling part was in the questions after his prepared speech, where there were a lot of nods around the room from the experts when he spoke.

I am now looking forward to Lembit running the sort of presidential campaign that he should be capable of.  I said to Lembit at conference (perhaps not in the best circumstances – late at night, after a few pints) that he needed to sort his campaign out as it hadn’t had much of a profile, looked amateurish and wasn’t inspiring anyone to support him when many people would.  I would like to vote for him as I think his ability to enthuse members around the country and (I gather) his good committee chairing skills would make it an ideal job for him.  However I also like Ros and at the moment she deserves to win for the effective, slick and professional campaign that she has put together.

I remain a floating voter, but hopefully I can now choose between two credible campaigns.

You wait ages for one opinion poll and then several come along at once

As a Lib Dem I know that I shouldn’t get too excited about a big bounce in the opinion polls.  After all we spend the rest of the year arguing with Labour and Tory bloggers that polls are meaningless and that the Lib Dems will do much better when the election comes and so we can’t suddenly change our mind when the results are good for us.  However the latest polls are interesting as they show what happens when the party is suddenly getting publicity again (it’s just a shame it wasn’t the one that came out during conference).  Given the publicity over Nick Clegg’s “£30 pension gaffe” and the mixed response to his speech (which I still don’t understand as I thought it was brilliant), the result is amazing and it is, apparently, the biggest post-conference bounce we have ever had.  I still however remain of the view that we won’t have any idea how popular Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats really are until we have had a general election and people get to see more of us and more of Nick.  Mind you, if anyone saw Frank Luntz’s focus group on Newsnight,  that will give the party great hope.

The more interesting poll though is the one of marginal seats by YouGov, which is a larger sample size than usual and includes a cross-section of different types of seats, in different parts of the country and with constituency-specific results.  It seems to me that the main lessons from that poll are:

  • You can’t take a uniform swing and then extrapolate that across every other seat in the country as some commentators do.  Thankfully this isn’t something that Electoral Calculus does quite so crudely anymore, but the website is still unfortunately quoted by the press as if it is a credible study on each party’s performance in individual constituencies when it isn’t.  Electoral Calculus however is useful as a reference for the notional results in the new constituencies, and it is also a very crude way of showing what is probably the worst that Labour and the Lib Dems can do in each seat on the current opinion polls, and the best the Tories will probably do (and in the process dashing the hopes of those Tories who still argue that they can beat Ed Balls in Morley & Outwood).
  • The Lib Dems do much better where they are seen as the challengers and where they have an incumbent MP. I go in to more detail below on the situation in Labour seats, but it does show that the Lib Dems are good at holding on where they have an incumbent.  The YouGov poll still shows many incumbents being swept away in the tide, but on the whole it is better for the Lib Dems.  I still believe that they wrong though on some incumbents, such as Chris Huhne and Tim Farron who I am convinced will hold on.  Although admittedly that is partly down to knowing a bit about the seats and what the Lib Dems are doing there and a lot more through instinct rather than through any statistical evidence.
  • Perhaps stating the obvious, but Labour really are heading to a disastrous defeat.  We have to capitalise on that.
  • It doesn’t matter that Cameron has yet to convince the majority of the population that he is any good as he is still seen as better than anything that Labour can offer.  I have said before that I don’t see David Cameron as the Tory equivalent of Tony Blair.  Yes he may have made the Tories more acceptable, but I don’t detect any great enthusiasm for Cameron as there was for Blair.  The crucial difference, and one that Cameron should be thankful for is that Labour have an unpopular leader and party, whereas when the Tories lost in 1997, John Major was quite well liked and it was more his party that was the problem.

What I found disappointing though was to see which seats this poll had selected as the best ones to use as Lib Dem marginals against either Labour or the Conservatives.  There is at least one seat (which I won’t name in case it is used by the opposition there) that is used in this poll as a representative Lib Dem/Labour marginal but I know is not even on the target seat list anymore.  I also know of several Lib Dem target seats that are perhaps more representative of where the party is trying hard to win that are not included.  I know they can’t poll every seat, but it means that the seats being used in this poll are not necessarily representative of how the party polls when they are really trying hard to win.

However despite my criticism of some of the way the poll has been carried out and the conclusions that have been drawn from it, I think the lack of progress in Labour seats is a potential worry.  It’s worth bearing in mind that this poll was carried out before the recent poll bounce and at a time when we had only just made going for Labour seats a major priority.  But for me the concern is that none of the seats that were Lab/Lib Dem fights showed a Lib Dem gain (except in Islington South & Finsbury).  This shouldn’t cause immediate panic as, assuming the General Election is still some way off, there is plenty of time for the party to make progress.

In a previous post I have mentioned that being in favour of tax-cutting won’t harm our chances of gaining Labour seats, just as in 1997 being in favour of raising taxes didn’t harm our chances of winning Conservative seats.  What we instead need to have is consistent principles tempered by what is the right political message for the time.  But more than any of that, we need to be seen as a credible opponent to the Labour Government.  Perhaps that is why we are yet to make real headway in the Labour seats we want to win.  In 1997 despite not having any official arrangement with Labour we were seen to be part of an anti-Conservative force.  We don’t yet have an equivalent anti-Labour force this time.  That may be because after many years as a centre-left party many Lib Dems instinctively hate the Conservatives far more than Labour. That is something though that we need to rectify and is down to convincing people in our campaigning rather than political positioning.

The bigger problem in this poll though seems to be that the party is struggling in three-way fights.  I know of a couple of seats (one where we are a close 3rd and another where we are 2nd but with the Tories not far behind) where we are far out-working the Tories, and that doesn’t seem to be reflected in this poll.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that people will switch straight from one of the bigger parties to the other one as that is what happened in 1997, but it is concerning nonetheless.  Not so much for those seats where we came a close third last time but for those where we came second last time and despite all the hardwork we look likely to fall to third.

What this poll reinforces for me is that at the next General Election many people will simply vote for whichever party can beat Labour.  Forget the policy positions, forget the clever slogans, it is beating Labour that matters. But at the moment the message is simply not getting through in many Labour/Lib Dem marginals.  We still probably have time, but we don’t know how much time it is.  We really need now to get in to people’s minds that in many seats it is us that can beat Labour and not the Conservatives.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Public art in Sheffield

I stumbled on this website when I was on Sheffield Forum and it’s an interesting list (albeit slightly out of date) of public art in Sheffield and tells you a bit about them.  I walk past some of these on a regular basis but I’ve never known the background to them, a particular one being ‘Heavy Plant‘ in the Science Park car park.  I still think a lot of this public art is under-appreciated.  After all, how many people judge a council or the universities on the quality of their public art.  However, if something is good it can really strike a chord and make people feel good about a place and life in general.  I think a brilliant example of that is ‘Barking up the right tree‘ inside the Millennium Galleries, which seems to be really popular with children.

Photo credit: Zawtowers, Flickr.com

Nick Clegg’s “real people” are very much real

There’s been some musing on the internet and in the press about how real the real people are that Nick Clegg talked about in his conference speech.  Well today’s Sheffield Star shows you just how real.

I know some people don’t like the references to real people, but I think they are great.  It shows how our policies and beliefs relate to how people live their lives.  It shows we aren’t just coming up with abstract policy that won’t ever affect anyone.  I was there when Nick met Katrina Ellershaw and she was just so over the moon about how her, and her son Jonathan’s, life had been transformed that it was amazing to see.  You just couldn’t help smiling yourself.

It is Lib Dem values in action, and that is important.

My 3 minutes of fame… in Wolverhampton

Well I’m not sure famous is the right word, but if you watch a video from the Express & Star newspaper I am 30 seconds in smiling inanely behind the people shaking hands.  What you see now is roughly take four of the hand-shaking, but it felt as though it took even longer.

Apologies to Colin Ross and Sunita Patel, but I was struck by the following:

21 seconds: Yep, that’s Martin Tod (at least I think it is) on Lembit’s segway.  No Martin don’t do it.  I thought you wanted to win!

36 seconds: Colin Ross looks as though he could be stuffed and appears to be completely incapable of moving anything except his mouth and blinking.

48 seconds: Yes that is a very heavy award there.  Having won it myself, it has to be the ugliest, heaviest and most sinister award that anyone has ever created.  Those birds round the top are apparently Cornish choughs.  They might look like birds that appear to be surrounding someone’s dead remains (not helped by their blood red beaks) but they aren’t.

1 minute 9 seconds (and for the rest of that segment): Liz Lynne MEP says everything’s excellently excellent, with lots of excellent things happening in the excellent West Midlands.

1 minute 11 seconds: Liz Lynne  tells everyone that “we could do better in the West Midlands, but all parties could do better”.  One of the more bizarre ways of enthusing people about the Lib Dems in the region. Liz Lynne then goes on to rattle off a list of everywhere in the West Midlands she has heard of.

1 minute 57 seconds:  Apparently the new PPC in Ludlow is doing well.  Persumably we were doing rubbish with the old one.  But what’s a PPC anyway?  I assume everyone who reads the Express & Star knows what one is.

2 minutes 5 seconds:  Liz “thinks” we are the major party dealing with the flooding issue.  She thinks.  She’s not sure though.

2 minutes 38 seconds:  Liz “completely disagrees with you”.  I don’t know what she disagrees with me on as she doesn’t say.  But she does “think” (although is still not sure) that we are in good heart in the West Midlands.

Absolutely stunning: Nick Clegg’s conference speech

Nick Clegg’s conference speech yesterday was quite simply one of the best I’ve heard from a Liberal Democrat Leader.  Now I know I will have heard less than many party members, but having been to almost every conference since 1996, I’ve still manage to hear a fair few and had the benefit of seeing them delivered by Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy, Ming Campbell and now Nick Clegg.

Of course wanting Nick to do well was both a personal and professional desire, but what it meant was that I was more nervous going in to that hall.  The party’s press coverage over the week has been affected by the crisis in world banking and there were one or two side stories that sometimes looked as though they could overshadow the real conference message.  But the mood all week has been unbelievably upbeat.  The press has been pretty much unanimous that the Liberal Democrats really are Nick Clegg’s party now.  No dissent.  No muttering.  Instead, people felt positive about the future and want Nick to do well.  A great background for a leader’s speech, but a lot could still rise or fall on that speech.

In the end he delivered a stunning success.  The speech was punchy, it got across a really strong Liberal Democrat message, it laid down the challenge to both of the other parties and it contained some good jokes (I particularly like the one about the Conservative party trying to become inoffensive).  What was really noticeable was how much enthusiasm and applause there were from people at certain key lines that clearly resonated with people around where I was sat.  In the end I not only came out knowing I’d heard a great speech, but also proud of what my MP managed to do.  I know this will sound soppy, but at one point it literally brought tears of joy to my eyes.

I wrote on this blog the other week about great oratory and how a brilliant speech can really move you emotionally and make you feel enthused and positive.  I didn’t think I would say this about Nick so soon after he became leader, but this has to count in that category.  The length of it would probably deter people who aren’t really that interested in politics, but I would urge anyone who thinks they could be pursuaded to vote for the party to watch it.  The first part can be view below, and if you follow this link you can find the other parts too.  You can also read the text on the party website.

Finally, I had intended writing a few bullet points about each day at conference, but as you can probably tell that has not gone according to plan.  In the end the amusing moments dried up a bit but what became particularly clear was what a good conference it had been.  I have always loved conference, but this was one of the best.

In the end the only downside came when it got to my five hour journey home on a Cross Country train without a buffet car that was open.  Finally as well it was good to get home last night without the continuing experience I had had at my hotel all week, which involved me having to pass through a crowd of lads on a stag party having an altercation with the hotel manager on two consecutive nights, and a bunch of Dutch pensioners who seem to have set up market stalls with bizarre bead jewellery on another two nights.

Liberal Democrat Conference Day Two

Some more highlights of the things I’ve seen at Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth.  This time from Saturday:

  • Seen a man holding a skull on a stick.  It was a walking stick but with a life-size skull stuck on the top of it.
  • Heard Jenny Willott deliver a very good conference speech.
  • Finally obtained a copy of the “Lembit for President” leaflet, which has the distinct feel of someone running for a parish council election back in the 1970s (i.e. lists all their experience and grand positions without saying what they will actually do).  This is combined with the impression that it was artworked by someone who has a computer but doesn’t really know how to use any of the DTP programmes on it.  Come on Lembit, you can do better than that.  There are loads of people out there who say they would like to vote for you as you’d probaby be good at the job, but feel at the moment that Ros Scott deserves it far more.
  • On the subject of Lembit, seen him riding a segway down the seafront telling everyone that it’s the future.
  • Been intrigued by the list of photo opportunities that Lib Dem candidates can take advantage of at conference.  These include: Vince Cable and two baskets of groceries, Sarah Teather at a Post Office graveyard (complete with gravestone!), Steve Webb with a line of carrier bags and another one of Steve Webb and a map showing Britain under water after the ice caps of melted.
  • Been slightly scared by the fact that the opening rally included a half hour performance by some young dancers from Grimsby.  I hear they were very good, but they were only there because Simon Hughes had invited them to conference, not told anyone they were coming and then someone had the task of working out what to do with them.
  • Been turned away from getting in to the conference rally as the room was far too small for the number who wanted to go, including a lot of MPs.
  • Been reminded what a brilliant speaker Tim Farron MP is.  I finally got in to the rally to hear the end of him speak just before Nick Clegg and he was effective and funny.  Nick described him as a star in the making, and he is probably right.
  • Been surrounded by some angry and determined looking seagulls whilst eating fish and chips on the beach.
  • Finally, got two bits of juicy gossip about the private lives of two of the party’s top PPCs and one bit about one of our MPs.  Before people get too excited they aren’t newsworthy but they were very intriguing for those of us know the people involved.

Finally, last night was wonderful.  Bournemouth has always been my favourite conference destination as it is a big town but not dirty and city-like like Brighton, it’s a bit more relaxing, it is a decent venue and it’s great that it’s so close to the sea with views across to the Isle of Wight.  But last night was wonderfully warm (you could still sit outside in short sleeves at well past 11pm) and with a full moon casting a reflection across the sea in front of the Highcliff Hotel it felt really quite mediterranean.  A bit of a contrast from when I arrived on Friday when it threw it down with rain, with massive hailstorms and huge claps of thunder.