LEADERSHIP POLL: Swinson ahead of Davey

Over the past week, I have been running an informal poll for the 2019 Liberal Democrat leadership election. I did the same in 2015, and came within 2% of the correct result, so thought I’d have another go this time round.

The results are now in, and before I go into them, I’ll just put a caveat here that although I have tried to do demographic weighting as accurately and diligently as possible, because I don’t have precisely accurate membership data (and have had to rely on the QMUL Party Members Project for information), the weightings may be slightly out. As such, this poll should not be relied upon as a formal, professional-standard poll, but its results should be relatively indicative.

I surveyed 846 participants between 24th June and 1st July 2019. This gives a theoretical margin of error of 3%. The results are weighted based on gender, age and joining period, as well as implied 2015 leadership vote based on stated ideological self-identification, corroborating the data with my 2015 leadership poll. This last weighting mechanism replaces a question about past vote (simply because more than half of members today were not members in 2015). Because it is a more experimental weight than the other three, I have also run the data without it: the results of that are under the headline section.

Full tables are available here.


The headline figures are Jo Swinson on 54%, and Ed Davey on 46%. This is a narrower race than some were expecting, but still a relatively comfortable margin for Swinson. Along with Mark Pack’s survey putting her on 60% (albeit with a large number of undecideds), my poll seems to justify her status as favourite for this race.

NB: Even without the weighting by implied 2015 leadership vote, weighting only for gender, joining period and age, Jo Swinson still leads with 53% to Ed Davey’s 47%.


Perhaps most interesting are the demographic trends.

Men appear to be voting overwhelmingly for Jo Swinson, with 62% of them joining Jo, and only 38% going wavy for Davey. Women, on the other hand, are splitting in the opposite direction, contrary to what many expected at the beginning of this campaign. 57% of them are voting for Ed, while 43% of them are voting for Jo.

The other trend to note is one of age. A whopping 68% of 18-24 year olds say they will be voting for Jo Swinson – perhaps reflective of her much-publicised time involved in LDYS and her frequent appearances at Young Liberals Conference. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a massive 78% of those over 65 say they will vote for Ed Davey – which could be crucial, as over 65s make up the largest proportion of the party’s membership. If Davey manages to turn them out en masse, while youth voters stay at home, his big margin here could be the difference. The trend is the startling thing however – in each category, the older you are, the more likely you are to be voting for Davey. The only exception to this is under 18s, who Ed is winning handily – but this should be caveatted, because the raw sample is so small that it may not be accurate to draw statistical conclusions from it.

While there isn’t any reliable data available for sexuality to be able to weight based on it, some interesting trends do emerge from the raw data. Amongst heterosexuals, Ed Davey has the edge with 52% to Jo’s 48%. With those self-identifying as LGBTQ+, Jo Swinson is ahead with 66% to Ed’s 34%.

Finally, amongst the BAME community, Jo is ahead with 53% to Ed’s 47%, though again, and unfortunately, this should be caveatted due to a small sample size. The low number of BAME respondents to this poll was of deep disappointment to me, and shows that we need to continue to work to make our party reflect the wide diversity of the country we’re seeking to represent.


Unlike in 2015, where my poll showed that Norman Lamb won a clear majority of those identifying themselves with the ‘classical liberal’ tradition, and Tim Farron won a huge majority of those identifying with the ‘social liberal’ tradition, the picture is much more mixed.

Those placing themselves in the left wing of the party make up 38% of the membership, according to my poll. And 64% of them say they will be voting for Jo Swinson, which is a big lead. There has been much discussion of the Coalition legacy at this election, and with two Coalition ministers fighting it out, the belief was at the beginning of the race that there was no clearly ‘left’ candidate. But for whatever reason, Jo is seemingly on course to win this essential bloc of voters.

Those placing themselves in the centre of the party are the largest share of the membership, making up 47% of the party. Ed Davey is on course to win 54% of these voters, which is another piece of evidence to suggest that the race will be closer than anticipated. Although this margin is much narrower than Jo’s popularity with the left of the party – and thus doesn’t make up for the size of her win there – if Ed can consolidate this lead with the party’s self-identifying centrists, this could be his path to victory.

Those placing themselves on the right of the party – the aforesaid ‘classical liberals’ – make up a smaller portion of the membership compared with 2015, with only 15% belonging to this group (cf. 22% in 2015). Among these voters, Ed and Jo are effectively tied – Jo ekes ahead with 51% of the vote, while Ed is on 49%.

In terms of joining date, Jo is winning with every group except those who joined pre-Coalition, where she is tied with Ed on 50% apiece. Jo’s lead by 65% to Ed’s 35% amongst those members who joined during the Coalition is particularly notable in the context of Ed’s decision to campaign hard on his record as a Coalition minister. Of post-Coalition joiners, the gap is at its most narrow amongst the 20,000 who joined in the 2019 surge, perhaps reflecting the fact that they are by a long way the most centrist group of new joiners (with a full 50% of 2019 joiners identifying as centrist rather than left or right of the party).

How do you solve a problem like Umunna?

Change UK have already split. We knew it was coming. But the formal breaking away of more than half of their MPs has raised the question of whether the splitters will defect to the Lib Dems.

Some would fit naturally into the party (Allen, Wollaston, Berger) if they wanted to come. To me, it is a no-brainer that they defect. This is because:

(a) I believe most of them are fundamentally liberals, but have just never described themselves as that due to prior party loyalties and whips;

(b) We shouldn’t turn down the prospect of a swathe of new MPs, increasing our voice in the media, in Parliament, and amplifying our message that we are the home for liberal, progressive internationalists in modern politics

(c) There is a serious prospect of our becoming one of the main parties, but this only happens under FPTP if you build broader coalitions within your party, which means ideological purity will lead to our failure.

Others would face some more serious ideological difficulties (Smith, Shuker). Serious conversations would need to be had about their positions, particularly Shuker’s, whose religion influences his politics away from the social liberal policies most Lib Dems get particularly fired up about.

But that leaves one problem case: Chuka Umunna. Some say he shows authoritarian tendencies; others say he is more liberal than his voting record suggests. This is a good opportunity to discuss an important point for the near future: where is the line between ideological purity and maintaining our identity as a liberal party?

To be very clear, I don’t want the Lib Dems ever to be anything but liberal first and foremost, and I don’t want just anybody to be able to defect if they fundamentally disagree with our views, even if they are pro-EU. For instance, I am staunchly opposed to the SNP and Plaid Cymru. So, to that end, we need to be able to distil down what the fundamental beliefs of the Lib Dems are, in order to be able to check whether someone is broadly aligned with us such that they could defect without diluting our identity. To my mind, there are a few areas.

  1. Internationalism. We are an internationalist party who wants to stop Brexit, prevent new borders being thrown up, and improve free trade and co-operation.
  2. Environmentalism. We believe in ending the climate crisis as a matter of urgency.
  3. Equality. We believe in equal rights for everyone, and are particularly firm in supporting the rights of those who are under threat the most in today’s society.
  4. Political reform. We think politics under FPTP is broken, and advocate for a change in the electoral system.
  5. Anti-authoritarianism. We’re opposed to snooping, to interference in our private lives, and in favour of reforming authoritarian laws like drug laws.
  6. Making people better off. We want to invest in public services, and think disadvantage and poverty are great ills which need to be tackled with everything we have.

Using this list as a vague guide as to our fundamental beliefs, and “what makes the Lib Dems liberal”, I personally think that Chuka Umunna (to go straight to the problem case) fits enough to be broadly compatible with us. He is pro-EU, has voted for environmental protections, supported all rights issues as a Labour MP, supports electoral reform, and wants to tackle disadvantage.

The understandable area of hesitation is on anti-authoritarianism, considering his recent proposal of a national civic service scheme, and a vote in Parliament in December against the legalisation of cannabis. There are two points of rebuttal to raise here. First, on the cannabis issue, voting records often do not belie a person’s real beliefs due to party whips (and indeed, post-Coalition, treating voting records as mirrors of a person’s true principle would be a surprising thing for us as Lib Dems to do). And on the issue of national civic service, the idea was phrased in a vague way and one which even he admitted would need refinement. He would need to be asked about this during discussions. It is certainly not something the party could support.

I want to labour one point in particular. If Umunna doesn’t defect, it is entirely his loss, and he will be beaten by the Lib Dems at the next election. As such, I will lose no sleep over it and won’t view it as a missed opportunity. This is not least because of our fantastic PPC in Streatham, Helen Thompson, who works with refugees and aid organisations, has been doing fantastic work for disenfranchised EU citizens, and through the dedication of her team in Streatham, won the equivalent constituency at the European Parliament elections.

But if Umunna does approach us to defect, and pending important and serious discussions with Helen and the Lambeth local party about how it would work, I don’t think we should dismiss him out of hand. While I don’t agree with him entirely, his policy set would not be particularly far outside the wheelhouse of the mainstream party, and provided he was properly briefed on the correct lines, and the situation made clear that defying our fundamental policies or not playing as part of the team would terminate the arrangement, the benefits of having a high-profile defection to us – with the media attention that follows it – would outweigh the issues arising.

It’s time for Remainers to get real about the European elections.

I thought about starting this post with a milquetoast introduction to the fact that elections were coming, but it’s time to get straight to the point. Remainers need to get real about the European elections. And, as a full disclaimer, I am a paid up member of the Liberal Democrats, so you might think that “I would say this”, but this post is aimed in particular at the Green Party, and secondarily at “tactical voting” websites which are using terrible, outdated evidence.

In plain English, even though the elections use proportional representation, the counting method is such that it is still very possible to split the vote. And naturally, Remain voters are anxious not to do that. So anxious, in fact, that they tried to lobby the parties with anti-Brexit positions to form a joint list or stand down for each other. And it didn’t work – not that the Lib Dems didn’t try.

So we’re now left with a conundrum. Who to support? This is where I think we need to get real.

I have a lot of respect for the Green Party. I have advocated alliances with them in Oxford when I was involved in the Lib Dems there. I worked with them to help get Layla Moran elected in 2017. I think they share a vast amount of policy with us, and broadly represent the same worldview. It is welcome that the Greens are supplanting Labour and beating Tories in limited places across the country.

But we need to be cold and ruthless and logical in swinging our support behind one Remain party at these elections, and I think the Greens are being disingenuous by claiming that it should be them. And before I explain why, I want to say: we have no time to beat around the bush anymore. So I am going to be blunt, and put the statistics exactly as they are. I mean no disrespect to the Greens, to whom I would probably give my second preference in any preferential election in England and Wales, in so doing.

Their main claim is that they have 3 MEPs compared to only 1 Lib Dem MEP, and this means that they are the strongest pro-EU party now. But this is ludicrous. It is absolute nonsense. We have to be honest with ourselves. This state of affairs arose from the 2014 European elections. To hammer home the point, this was five years agoduring the Coalition, when the Greens had more members than the Lib Dems, and we were at our lowest point in our history, ever, full stop. Two general elections later, and with the Lib Dems now having over 100,000 members compared to the Greens’ mere 40,000, and with the Lib Dems having significantly improved their electoral fortunes – for instance gaining over 700 seats just this week, absolutely dwarfing the Greens’ efforts both in terms of gains and raw councillor numbers – the situation is just not the same anymore. We cannot rely on evidence from before Brexit happened – before the seismic shock which changed politics – as justification for how we should act now, against Brexit.

What makes this contention even more outdated is precisely where they are saying they are stronger. In the South West – a Lib Dem heartland, where the party just hit it out of the park in local elections (see chart below). In the South East, where the Lib Dems just picked up a cluster of brand new councils – Mole Valley, Winchester, the Vale of White Horse. In London, where post-Brexit opinion polls clearly show the Lib Dems are doing best and outperforming the Greens.

Again, I want to underscore with as much clarity as I possibly can that I have enormous respect for the Greens. If we used a sensible system of proportional representation like STV, they would get my second preference. If it were an election at any time other than this, I would not be making this post. But this is not the time to be messing around. We need to make a statement.

People can vote for who they like. It’s their right as electors. And I’m sure this post will get a reaction from Green members who are understandably passionate about their own candidates. But I just want to present the evidence once again. Evidence from the post-Brexit era.

  • The Lib Dems beat the Greens in every region in the 2015 and 2017 general elections.
  • The Lib Dems beat the Greens in terms of vote share and councillors elected in 2017, 2018 and 2019
  • The Lib Dems beat the Greens in the London local elections in 2018, including gaining majority control of an extra two whole councils.
  • The Lib Dems beat the Greens in the Scottish local elections in 2017, which are the only post-Brexit election conducted by proportional representation in mainland Britain so far. They got almost double the number of first preferences, and over treble the number of councillors.
  • The Lib Dems are ahead of the Greens in by-election victories
  • The Lib Dems have proven they are back stronger than pre-Coalition by gaining +704 council seats this week, concentrated in the South East and South West.
  • The average of polls conducted for the 2019 European elections has the Lib Dems on around 9%, with the Greens on around 7%. These were before the local elections, which showed a major Lib Dem set of gains.

Every single one of these things are facts. The only countervailing evidence is that most of these elections were done by First Past the Post. But there is not a single time that the Greens have beaten the Lib Dems post-Brexit, and nor is there a single region where the Greens are outperforming the Lib Dems. Remainers: we have to wake up. We have to accept reality. I know there are Greens who will vote Green no matter what, and all power to them. But at this election – this one time, where so much is at stake and so much can change if we send the right signal – we have to get behind the party which all the evidence shows is the strongest pro-European party out there. Please let’s get real, and force the main two parties to understand that we want them to stop Brexit.



It’s true: the Liberal Democrats are far more radical than Labour

At autumn conference this year, unnoticed by most as the farce of Brexit continued to dominate headlines and Lib Dem attentions, the party passed some of its most radical, progressive and exciting economic policy in years. In the nearly four years that I’ve been a member, I’ve spent a lot of my time criticising the party for failing to think properly about the economy beyond tinkering with the existing system, so it fills me with happiness that we’ve finally sorted ourselves out. In particular, I noticed this article get a lot of stick. How ludicrous, the critics say, that the dull, centrist Lib Dems can paint themselves as more radical than Corbyn and McDonnell! But here’s the thing – it might be uncomfortable for some to admit, but it’s true. And here’s why.

In some of my more formal essays on liberalism, I’ve outlined the necessity for liberals to be genuinely radical and creative with their economic solutions, and not just be content to operate within the same old systems which have caused such structural damage and disadvantage. I’ve argued that we need to systematically dismantle those structures of domination, and truly liberate people economically. These policies do exactly that.

The policy I’m perhaps most excited about is the realignment of wealth taxation. By abolishing inheritance tax and instead taxing intergenerational transfers as income, as well as taxing income from wealth in the same way as normal income, we stop the entrenchment of privilege across generations by huge transfers of wealth, while giving most people – the non-wealthy – a very generous allowance and exempting small gifts. A similar proposal was mooted by the IPPR, my favourite think-tank, and it’s fantastic to see it as formal Lib Dem policy.

But it’s also about what we can do with the money raised from this. We now have policy to set up the Citizens’ Wealth Fund, a sovereign wealth fund managed by independent financiers, to invest on behalf of the nation. Most excitingly, we want to use it to set up a citizens’ dividend, so every person can share in the growth of the nation they helped contribute towards. I am particularly interested in a supplementary idea, spoken about before by Vince, of turning this into a young people’s dividend, receivable on their 18th birthday, to really hammer home our message of intergenerational fairness. We also want to invest in lifelong education and reskilling, so workers are equipped for the modernisation of industry. We are the only major party talking about this.

But we’ve also come up with more: most notably, abolishing business rates and replacing them with a land value tax. This proposal would stop the absurd disincentive to investment and development that business rates currently provide, and would instead tax solely the basic land occupied. In this way, the burden of taxation also shifts from tenant to landlord, and thus provides a major shift of economic power.

Adding all of this together is a radical platform in itself. But combined with existing policy – most notably employee-ownership, one of our core pieces of industrial policy for over half a century and ingrained into our constitution, and a preference for new wealth taxation on property rather than higher income tax, our economic policy is by far the most reformative and fresh of any of the major parties. This is most notably true with Labour: the economic section of their 2017 manifesto merely called for some taxes to be tweaked upwards, a few nationalisations, and intervening to stop high street ATMs being taken away. They try to present themselves as radicals, but the truth is that their policies are pedestrian. The Lib Dems are the real reformers, and after Conference this year, that is truer than ever.

Party Reforms

It has been widely reported in a number of newspapers and other outlets today that Vince Cable is planning on introducing a series of radical reforms to the Liberal Democrat rulebook in an effort to re-energise the party and create a “mass membership movement”. Although some of the details appear to have been mangled in some of the reporting – most notably because journalists tend to have a chronically shaky grasp of how Lib Dem internal structures work (and Jennie Rigg of FCC has debunked them well in her blog here) – I want to tackle the principle of it, and explain why on balance, I think parts of this would be a bad move, regardless of how or when it’s introduced. I qualifiedly support a supporters’ scheme, but I do not support the party being led by a non-MP.

Supporters’ scheme

The first element of this would be the introduction of a supporters’ scheme, according to the reports, and it has been touted as being along similar lines as Labour’s, but requiring that a person be of twelve months’ standing before they gain the full privileges associated with it, which are implied to be leadership election privileges.

This strikes me as a half-good idea for one main reason: engagement. Membership of the party is £12 per year (or less if you’re under 26), which is the cheapest of the main parties, but the psychological barrier of “being a member of a political party” is, I would argue, more significant. The ordinary person who watches the news and has a set of opinions, but doesn’t like to associate themselves with “politics” or being “a politician” is often put off by the idea of party membership, seeing it as a step too far. The way I see it, the supporters’ scheme could be a way to bridge this gap, and give those people who are liberal and want to show support an avenue for doing so within the framework of the party. That way, we can keep in touch with them, engage with them, and hopefully persuade a few of them to end up delivering and campaigning, and maybe even joining as full members.

Where I depart from the idea, however, is the idea that we should give such supporters voting rights in leadership elections. The reason for this is not entryism (the Lib Dems are already very open to entryism with our unconditional one-member-one-vote system for determining conference policy, and entryism didn’t impact Labour’s leadership elections at all) but rather incentive: if supporters have the same primary rights as members, what is the point in being a member? My suggestion would be that supporters gain reduced or limited rights, such as half-votes at conference with special voting cards, or half-votes for internal committees, and so on.

Non-MP Leaders

The worst part of the ideas mooted, however, is changing the rules to allow a non-MP to become leader. It has been rumoured that this is a step to allow Gina Miller, the anti-Brexit campaigner, to become leader, but I’ve not heard any reputable person in the party give any credence to that. But regardless of who is being lined up for it, it should be fully resisted. And the reason for this comes down to what the party ought to be.

The Liberal Democrats are the youngest of the major parties in a very narrow sense, but are the formal successors to the Liberal Party, who are the formal successors to the Whigs, and thus, the Lib Dems are the modern representatives of a liberal tradition and movement going back almost 350 years, into the seventeenth century. And crucially, that tradition is a Parliamentary one. We introduced the welfare state, we expanded the franchise, we liberalised the economy, we equalised marriage – all through having MPs in Parliament as the supreme decisionmaking body for the country as a whole, and making that our primary goal. It is a goal that we should maintain. Having a non-MP as leader would shift this focus unacceptably.

From a public relations standpoint, it would also be undesirable. Having a non-MP leader would make it considerably harder to get name recognition in the media. We already struggle – having a confusing split between the person leading us in the Commons and the person leading us overall would exacerbate this. And worst of all, it would signal a lack of seriousness, a relegation to the position of pressure group or single-issue party, like the Greens or UKIP. We are neither of those things. We are the only liberal party in British politics. We have been in government more recently than Labour, and – I’d wager – it is unlikely that they will get into government before us again. It would be a betrayal of the 2.3million people who voted for us last year to pack it all in and abandon our Parliamentarism – especially if the goal of so doing would be to put someone like Gina Miller in power to defer to the Remain crowd, thus obscuring further our other policies.

So while the supporters’ scheme may have some merit and may be a good way to get more people involved in liberalism and the party, some of the specifics aren’t quite right, and the idea to allow non-MPs to be leaders is, to me, very much the wrong route. If we want a better pool from which to pick leadership contenders, then there’s only one option: we’ve got to get more Lib Dem MPs elected.