Saturday, April 28, 2007

The LibDems: How Do They Do It?

I got a lot of flack yesterday for suggesting that some non-political women cast their votes partly based on looks and charisma. I expected an onslaught and I wasn't disappointed. But reading Fraser Nelson's column in The Spectator today I found this little anecdote...
Our first stop is to meet Cath Laddis, a farmer’s wife, who says she will
vote Lib Dem because she is pleased with Tim Farron, the local MP, who unseated
Tim Collins at the last election. ‘Tim [Farron] spent 45 minutes playing
football with my kids,’ she says. ‘Most politicians would kick a ball and be

So, Mrs Laddis intends to vote LibDem on the basis that the MP played football with her son for 45 minutes. This is exactly what I was up against in North Norfolk. Norman Lamb played an awful lots of games of football! Seriously, people are increasingly casting their votes not on a politician's views or political record, they're casting their votes on whether the politician empathises with them or seems a nice person. The LibDems are past masters at this.

The lesson we Conservatives have got to learn is never to lose a seat to them in the first place, because if the LibDem MP is seen as a nice guy/girl, spends their entire first term dealing with local constituency issues they will be almost impossible to remove. If you look at where we have unseated LibDem MPs after losing an election to them it's normally because they haven't done what Norman Lamb did and Tim Farron is obviously doing - Jackie Ballard and Sue Doughty are two examples who spring to mind.

This is why I think those who are expecting the LibDems to lose a lot of seats next time need to rethink their views. They're not just going to be plucked off trees. However, I do think the Conservatives can win seats back off them, and the national political situation is obviously very different now to what it was in 2005. No one seriously thought Michael Howard was going to win, so it was easy for LibDem/Con floaters to register a protest again. This time will be different. The message that the only way to get rid of Labour is to vote Conservative will register far more powerfully, and Ming Campbell's failure to inspire or galvanise his own party in the way that Charles Kennedy did will count against the LibDems.

So if Conservative candidates in LibDem seats can truly play the local card and be all round nice guys, they may suceed where candidates like me so miserably failed last time. My advice to any local Conservative Association in a LibDem held seat or facing a LibDem threat is to select a truly local candidate. Having done that, it's then up to the national party to do their bit.


Anonymous said...

The Libdems also seem to be able to pick candidates from lists of long-serving councillors - who are already well-known to the local electorate.

Warts and all, voters seem to identify better with a local name than another under-employed barrister from London.

Why do so many Conservative associations pick candidates with little or no local connections?

Anonymous said...

Spot on, Iain. Not only do they not have any Westminster work to do, so they can devote time to their constituencies, they are also likely to have a relatively high national profile, as because there are so few of them they are bound to be spokesman for something or other and appear on national TV from time to time. Add to this the chameleon-like ability to agree with everyone, and that makes a difficult person to winkle out.

But it can be done, and the best way has to be to select someone who is already well known and liked in the constituency.

David Anthony said...

There are always two campaigns that occur at General Election time - a national one and local one. I feel that the local one is greatly overlooked.

The only time I heard, saw or read anything from the Tory candidate for my seat at the last election was in a double-sided A4 leaflet dealing with 'quasi-local' issues a couple of week before the vote. Unsurprisingly, the Tory vote went down.

The national campaign begins when parliament is dissolved, but the local campaign should begin as soon as possible. The challenger to a seat should be seen to be working for the local area as soon as he or she is selected for the seat. Publicity and a high-profile are essential in unseating a relatively safe incumbent.

Colin D said...

yet another indication Iain that "party Politics" has running into its last mile. A modicum of common sense dictates that people have an empathy to someone they know & can trust. Todays "party" members can & do sing from the same hymn sheet. Hence the apathy.

Theo Spark said...

Maybe Norman Lamb should play for West Ham.

Anonymous said...

Here is one woman who does not vote on a personal whim Iain

but I am helped because my MP is (if I am allowed to name him) Richard Benyon -and he seems a thoroughly nice guy!

Richard Havers said...

It's such a shame that Nicol Stephen isn't named Tim. If he was we could go on endlessly about Tim, nice but dim. Although I'm not actually sure he is really very nice, I just think he may have gone to RADA.

Joking aside I think Nicol Stephen's efforts to appear to be nice as well as tough may well count against him up here in Scotland. I'm off to find what odds I can get on the Tories getting more seats than the Lib Dems. Annabel Goldie continues to plug away and is getting somewhere. It's a pity that she hasn't much talent around her - Derek Brownlee is a notable exception.

More on the Lib Dems in Scotland here

Anonymous said...

The Lib Dems are responsible for turning MPs into town councillors. Of course MPs sould do everything they can to help their constituents, particularly the old and the vulnerable. CSA cases, tax credits, pensions, education, those with special needs, NHS problems and the like are all things that MPs can be invaluable in helping with. However, since the advent of the Lib Dems I have seens cases that should have been put to the local councillor such as the position of a 'dog poo' bin (yes, the constituent used that phrase), planning issues (MPS have absolutely no say on these)and one complained of a traffic sign outside her house which needed to be there for safety reasons but which she considered to be an eyesore. Other 'important' issues raised: the inability to get tickets for Boyszone, the fact that travel companies raised the rates during school vacations (yes, a damned cheek but one of results of a free market economy - what did he expect the MP to do?)and another complained that despite working tax credits she still couldn't afford to buy a house which of course was her 'right' and what was the MP going to do about it? One woman desperately needed to be re-housed but when a good place was found for her in a good neighbourhood she turned it down because it was her 'right' to have a house so that her dog could have a garden to run in. Yes, MPs are there to serve but for every minute the staff takes dealing with Boyszone tickets is a minute taken away from a pensions case. The Lib Dems have lowered the stakes so that people who nowadays have an enormous sense of entitlement anyway, expect their MPs to play footie with their children!

Anonymous said...

If you want to know why you got massacred (not just lost) in the General Election you should probably look a bit closer to home. Perhaps combine it with a double analysing your performance as David Davis' campaign manager. And perhaps conclude that political strategy is not your strong point.

Iain Dale said...

I was not David Davis's campaign manager. I was his chief of staff. Andrew Mitchell was the campaign manager.

If you want an independent analysis of why I lost in North Norfolk have a look at the Almanac of British Politics by Robert Waller. He is bang on the money. He concludes with the words: "It was not Iain Dale's fault".

I am sure there are many things I could have done differently and I definitely made errors, but the die was already cast. Chris Rennard will tell you that.

Anonymous said...

Iain Dales writes: "I got a lot of flack yesterday for suggesting that some non-political women cast their votes partly based on looks and charisma."

This is obfuscation of the highest order Iain. People - obviously, this includes men - do indeed vote partly on charisma. Margaret Thatcher had the charisma of her beliefs, her vision and her presence.

David Davis has charisma. Again, his history and his presence. William Hague has charisma. Again, his accomplishments, his presence, his quick wit which people stay on their toes anticipating. Charisma is woven out of real accomplishments as well as a commanding presence.

The socialists were smart enough to cloak Tony Blair in the mini-mantle of JFK so Blair got his charisma - soi-disant - off the shop shelf. That won't work again within living memory. The Conservatives are tone-deaf if they think it will.

What we were trying to tell you is, David Cameron doesn't have any. You don't get charisma from a solid year of painfully manufactured photo ops and not one ounce of substance. He has no charisma. He's got your standard OE charm, and that is the extent of it.

Also, Iain, you mention looks. No. It's presence. Dave has neither. He has a weak, self-indulgent, self-congratulatory little face.

Anonymous said...

Verity, change the record this one is broken and move on! You make clear daily on this site that you don't like David Cameron and we get it in spades!

Anonymous said...

check out valleysmam comments there alright

The Hitch said...

Heres a shock iain I would vote for a politician that I thought empathised with me rather than vote for the colour of their rosette, Im naturally a conservative, however If Kate Hoey, Norman Lamb or Frank Field were to stand for election in my constituency I would vote for them, maybe even you if I was convinced that you would stick to your principles once elected rather than following the party line (not suggesting that you wouldn't)
The Conservative party should be wiping the floor with this failed labour administration not white washing walls in trendy eco trainers made in chinese prison camps or waffling on about windmills.

Anonymous said...

"If ou look at where we have unseated LibDem MPs after losing an election to them it's normally because they haven't done what Norman Lamb did and Tim Farron is obviously doing "

God only knows what Jenny Tonge could have played with Richmond Park kids to hold her seat in 2001

Anonymous said...

No one seriously thought Michael Howard was going to win

Pity that. with a more professional campaign and attention to local issues he could have done...but it is good to know they spent £20 million knowing they would not win......

Anonymous said...

The problem is when Tory associations select their candidates they "want someone who will be in the cabinet in 7 years." Lib Dems have no chance of having that wish so they go for the best "local."

At the moment most people dont know who their MP is, unless they get really involved in local issues. Hence the Lib Dems do well once elected.

Of course if you remove the political blinkers and put yourself in the shoes of your local voter which would you rather vote for: someone who seems "normal" and approachable with whom you have contact (whether it be him/her playing football with your kids for 45 minutes or them sorting out problems with the CSA etc) OR a candidate who you dont know, never says anything in the house of commons except to repeat what the party leader is saying?

This isnt meant to be a pro-lib dem comments, MPs from all the parties can fall into the "normal" people group. But only if the local associations select the right candidates.

Anonymous said...


I think it would be quite interesting to find out just how many sitting MPs have previously served as (a)councillors or (b) councillors in the contituency they represent.

You could then take these statistics and add them up for each party. My bet would be that the Liberal Democrats would have the highest proportion of MPs who have formerly served as councillors in that constituency.

If so, perhaps there is something that the Conservative party can learn from it.

Anonymous said...

The Hitch - like you, I am naturally a Conservative voter, but would vote for any candidate I thought sympathised, broadly, with my philosophy. If I were living in Norman Baker's constituency, I would vote for him - no matter what I think of the Lib-Dem party in general - because he is an honourable man who works hard to right wrongs. He is, though without charisma, a wholly admirable MP.

Madasafish said...

I don't know what world some of you inhabit but the real one it ain't.
I am a natural Conservative voter and voted that way until the mid 1990s. At that point the Cons had clearly lost the plot. Our local part disintegrated and the seat we are in went NuLab: and to give her respect our MP has done a great job for her constituents. Useless as a junior Minister and fired but as a constiuency MP.. great.

The Conservatives do not exist except at elections (they came second by a few 1000 votes.).

Frankly until they choose a decent local candidate and get an organisation they are unlikely to win - but NuLab are doing their best to help.

But countrywide I see no signs of a upswell of support for the Conservatives... bourne out by the Opinion Polls.

As for Hague and David Davis having charisma, it must be the variety that Michael Howard and John Major had:-)) (and as effective at the ballott box imo)

Anonymous said...

Both David Davis and William Hague attract audiences for their talks without gimmicks and costumes.

I never thought we'd see anyone beat Tony Blair for love of costumes and empty gestures, but Dave seems to be gaining on him.

Unsworth said...

"So, Mrs Laddis intends to vote LibDem on the basis that the MP played football with her son for 45 minutes".

Belive me, Iain, that's probably a much more sensible reason for voting than many others. And I'd guess that many who vote really don't think too clearly about their choices. Regrettably!

Anonymous said...

Anonymouse said...
"The Libdems also seem to be able to pick candidates from lists of long-serving councillors - who are already well-known to the local electorate."

Strange because the Conservatives have more councillors than the Lib Dems. The transition from being a councillor to a LibDem MP is easier to make than to a Conservative or Labour MP, becaus ethe former has no prospect of executive responsibility.

Iain, I know nothing of the details of North Norfolk, but all of the cases that I know well of losses by Conservatives to LD's involved poor candidate selection by the Conservatives or in one case an unfortunate incident involving citrus fruit.

The problem is that many Conservative associations with long-standing MP's hollow out politically whilst superficially appearing to dominate the other parties. Their position is actually quite fragile and after they lose the seat they are often not in a position to win it back. Winning a seat back requires a bigger and better party organisation than holding a seat.

Rather than trying to emulate the LibDems, the way back is usually to attack them on national policies and present our own.

The good news is that it would take 3 years to play 40 minutes football with every schoolboy in mowst constituencies.

Anonymous said...

mens sana says: "Not only do they not have any Westminster work to do, so they can devote time to their constituencies, they are also likely to have a relatively high national profile, as because there are so few of them they are bound to be spokesman for something or other".

Umm, isn't this a contradiction? Surely if LibDems are more likely to get spokespersonships then they are more likely to have to spend time out of their constituencies to cover that Monday afternoon debate on disability compliance or the Thursday debate on fishing rights off Lincolnshire.

Anonymous said...

As I'm the "anonymouse" that Mark Williams mentions, I'd like to say that I pretty much agree with what he says 100%.

I divide my time between two constituencies that have been Conservative "strongholds" in the past and now have Liberal Democrat MPs.

Both of these Liberal Democrat MPs have managed to balance long-term service on local councils with relatively undemanding public-sector jobs that allow them plenty of time for building a local public profile.

I hate to generalise, but most Conservative MP hopefuls tend to have more demanding private sector jobs to balance with their political ambitions.

Even so - I have also seen some truly awful clangers by local Conservative Associations, trying to convince voters that our candidate has local connections. The percentage of the electorate who do vote may be falling, but those who are left aren't totally stupid.

Can it really be so hard for the Conservatives to find good LOCAL candidates?

Anonymous said...

Anyone remember the "A" list?

Anonymous said...

anonymous 9.28pm

Yes - I do. Great programme on a Saturday night.

My favourite was "Mr T."

Mr Osato said...

Shh, whisper it quietly, but Tim Farron isn't actually local to Westmorland and Lonsdale - he was a county councillor 50 miles away in South Ribble before he got selected. He's just very good (and a hndy footballer to boot)

Newmania said...

Iain one of things I like about you is that you seem to grasp the levels at which people engage in politics. For many quite reasonably it forms no more than a white noise in the background and emotions and are more engaged that serious thinking .You miss entirely that the same os true of Blogs political or otherwise but still....I also laughed at this but didn’t you think the Speccie has an agenda . The New statesman discovered by way of vox pop that people were voting BNP because they were worried about Iraq . As if .
Not reliable is it . Liberals do go in for that baby kissing mularky alot and the irony is that they are easily the nastiest Party locally .I find it inexcusable that Conservative candidates should be out sold at such a level . get in there and start talking crap about nice things .In David Cameron they have an inspiring role model…..and I am seriously glad of it

Anonymous said...

Mr Osato,

I'm not going to get into an argument with you because:

(a) Tim is my local MP. I didn't vote for him; I voted Conservative.

(b) 50 miles south of here would put Tim Farron in the area of Blackburn, rather than the South Lakes. It's stretching it a bit to call that neck of the woods "the Ribble" but let's not fall out over this!

I've never met him but many of my neighbours have. On the local village noticeboard, there is a photo of him with the dates of his local "surgeries."

All a bit "twee" perhaps, but it's what local folk cast their votes for.

I get the feeling that - amongst those of "us" who have done all the front-line stuff, there is an acknowledgment that the Conservatives need to field more - genuinely - local candidates.

Can we agree on this?

Mr Osato said...

Flat Eric, believe it or not South Ribble is a parliamentary constituency and a local authority centred on Leyland - yes it does exist and it is where Tim was a county councillor!

The point is that the Tories need people who will 'connect' - and nailing down what that is is like trying to pin down jelly.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh. Never mind serious research. Let's blog by anecdote, again and again and again.

Anonymous said...

"I got a lot of flack yesterday for suggesting that some non-political women cast their votes partly based on looks and charisma."

Really? Some people don't know that most women vote for what they fancy?

Ignorant morons. Best advice for good looking candidates is to roger as many voters as possible.

Anonymous said...

"I got a lot of flack yesterday for suggesting that some non-political women cast their votes partly based on looks and charisma."

It's a fact - have to also agree with most of what you wrote

The Remittance Man said...

Yeah, a prospective MP has got to be personable, it's very hard to like a miserable git (isn't it Mrs Brown). But this focusing on the likeability of candidates is just a symptom of the dumbing down of the nation.

The real crux of the issue is the fact that the LimpDums appear to remember that they are elected as the representatives for a particular area and actually function as such.

Which makes it rather strange that they are the only main party to support PR. I would have thought having built a reputation as good local representatives they'd want to stick with a system that played to their strengths. PR would force the electorate to concentrate on their policies, which have never been a LimpDum strong point.

Anonymous said...

Iain, I really don't think Norman Lamb kicking a football is why you lost by 10,000 votes. It's because he was well-informed, hard working, articulate and a more impressive speaker than you.

neil craig said...

I think that is a perfectly ok way to choose who to vote for. She had met the guy & seen that he really enjoyed playing football with her son. That he seemed to be a genuine person not merely a well trained automatan.

If you don't know whether the exchange rate is to high or to low or what action to take against people who may have WMDs (& who does) then you have to choose on character & she saw the real character.

On most elections we vote on the character of people like Blair & Bush whose character is, by the nature of our relationship with them, a work of art.

janestheone said...

well said Iain. LibDems don't get pushed out by national swings like Labour and Tories do, so once they get in they are almost impossible to shift. Locally too - it took us five years to shift a LibDem and get a Labour councillor in in Reading East - and we did it by out-LibDemming them - yellow leaflets, litter and dog poo, traffic calming - it's what people care about.

jg (a councillor for 10 years, then Labour MP for eight years in the same constituency)

MJS said...

It was that very point that (many years ago) caused me to take umbrage at compulsory voting. (I was living in Tasmania) I wasn't at that stage old enough to vote, but I heard my work colleagues discussing their votes and the decisions were based on 'he's Irish' or 'he's so good-looking' or 'he comes from round our way' or 'I went to school with him' etc. etc. I saw how this could skew the returns and decided that it was fairer that those who cared enought to vote got their votes counted. (Sorry about the gender imbalance, that's the way it was.)