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Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Lib Dems: the most popular politicians in the country

Well, that was the title of my piece in the New Statesman yesterday and the general abuse in the comments section has definitely taken a step or two up. I must be doing something right.

Do click on the link above to see the comments (and maybe redress the balance a little) - otherwise, I have copied the piece below.

One commentator - 'Phil' - especially takes me to task. I'll address his comment after the piece.

Here's a thought to get New Statesman readers' jaws dropping. Last week - by some distance - the most popular politicians in the country were Lib Dems.
No Nick, not you.
But of the six local by-elections held last week, the Lib Dems won five. And these victories didn't occur in bastions of Lib Dem incumbency with the party holding on by the skin of its teeth. Three of them were gains, two of them from the Tories - despite the received wisdom that says we're going to get a bit of a pasting from the Conservatives at the next General Election and we should be concentrating our efforts on Labour.
So how, in the face of doom laden opinion polling, has this miracle come about?
Well, dare I suggest that purist Lib Dem politicians and policies may be rather more popular than their coalition cousins?
Local Lib Dems, unencumbered by the need to explain why detailed analysis of multiple negotiated amendments to the fine print of white papers means that they can vote in ways that appear to be the opposite of party policy or manifesto commitments, are winning. Presumably because their constituents still rather like what Liberal Democrats stand for.
Now, lots of you have zipped to the bottom and are already writing in the comments section that this is all nonsense. "Have you forgotten the May 2011 elections?" I hear you cry. "Local Lib Dems were not so popular then?"
This is true. But then the May round of elections tends to be an opportunity for people to express a view not only on who representsthem locally, but also their opinion of how a party is performingnationally. Draw your own conclusions.
Now this isn't some diatribe, not-too-subtly suggesting we should pull out of the coalition. There's too much we care about - liking raising the income tax threshold further and faster - still to do. Like most party members, I think we're doing a lot of good in government.
But as we enter the week of Spring Conference, let's remember that asa party, our own policies and politicians are popular and electable. It's when we start propping up muddled, over complicated Conservative pieces of legislation ('coughs, stares pointedly at the NHS Bill') - that the trouble starts...

Now then, 'Phil' wrote of my piece:
Lib Dems playing fast and loose with the facts, as usual. In local authority elections last week, the tally was Lab = 1 gain, LD = 0 (1 gain less 1 loss), Con = 1 loss.
Why the discrepancy? The author couldn't bring himself to admit that the extra 4 LD "council" seats were in fact on parish councils. You know, the ones responsible for the parish pump and the bench on the village green, and not much else. If the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors kept statistics on school governor elections, he'd have thrown those into the pot too.
Des Demona. I agree with your comments. The golden rule: never take any electoral statistic quoted by a Liberal Democrat at face value. Someone ought to tell the NS website editor.

Well Phil, I'd make three points.
1. I very clearly describe last weeks results as 'local' not 'local authority'. You are quite right that several of the results I mention are Parish Councils (technically Town Councils, but still). I think you may have misread my piece - but for the avoidance of doubt, here is a link to the results
2. My point overall was that local Lib Dem politicians are seemingly more popular than our national ones. It doesn't make a difference what 'level' of local politicians we are talking about - my assertion applies to them all.
3. I am guessing Phil, you are a Labour supporter. It is one of the characteristics of the Lib Dems that we like to empower local communities to make decisions that affect them at a local level - and Parish/Town councils do an excellent job at representing local people's concerns. I note from your comment that this probably isn't true of the party you represent, that you can dismiss hard working local politicians as only responsible for 'the Parish pump and the bench on the Village Green'. Which is a shame.
Thanks for your comment though. Always grateful for feedback.

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