Friday, 9 April 2010


An election system that does not give equal value to every vote has for many decades prevented the Liberal Democrats from exerting real influence over government policy. The outrageous insult to democracy demonstrated by the Liberals winning 18% of the votes yet less than 2% of the seats in February 1974 was the spur that made me apply for membership. More recently the scale of our under representation has been reduced. At the last election we won some 20% of the votes and more than 9% of the seats. Not fair, but less awful.

The success of the Liberal Democrats’ targeting strategy has been hailed as one reason for the improvement. We have concentrated our money and resources into a limited number of target seats where we have the greatest chance of making a breakthrough. For the most part the target seats are self-evident, they are the places where we have won more than 50% of the places on the local council, gaining electoral credibility from people knowing that when they vote Liberal Democrat they often get Liberal Democrats elected. This is usually achieved between general elections not at them.

But targeting has its limits. It has not really sunk into the consciousness of party members outside the targets. Once a general election is called a great proportion of local activists (not that we have many in the first place) feel obliged to campaign locally. They want to make a creditable effort, or perhaps “frighten” the incumbent Tory MP. A mist comes over their eyes that blinds them to the reality that a ‘creditable’ third place counts for absolutely nothing. It’s an utter defeat. If there are no prizes for coming second do you have to give them away yourself if you come third?

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats in a target seat just a short distance away may be crying out for extra help that could make all the difference between victory and a near miss, yet too often they can’t get their neighbours to set aside their local loyalties.

In Warrington South, where I am giving a bit of help myself, we are working to build the necessary bridges. By letter and telephone we are trying to explain the necessity for the approach. By encouraging some teams from Cheshire constituencies each to “adopt” a South Warrington ward we are trying to create an alternative element of loyalty.

Maybe the targeting ball is starting to move in our favour. Whether it gains momentum, and allows us to demonstrate that targeting is more than just a word, remains to be seen.

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