• Boundary Commission for England website
    Article: Sep 14, 2016

    The Boundary Commission of England and Boundary Commission of Wales have published proposals to reduce the total number of Westminster constituencies to 600 and redraw existing constituences to "balance" the number of voters in each seat. The proposals for Scotland will be published next week.

    Commenting on Lib Dem Voice, former Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats Chris Rennard said:

  • Sir Trevor Jones
    Article: Sep 9, 2016

    The death has been announced this morning of Sir Trevor Jones, who was well known in Liberal Party days as "Jones the Vote", a former Leader of Liverpool City Council, President of the Liberal Party and one of my original political mentors. He was 89 and died after a recent diagnosis of cancer.

    Trevor became a Liberal Councillor in Liverpool's Church Ward in November 1968, the ward in which I grew up and where he joined Cyril Carr whose had been elected in the ward in 1962 with the first ever campaign based on leaflets called 'Focus'. It was Trevor who then spread the Focus campaigning style across the city and such was the effectiveness of his approach and the techniques that he built on that following the 1973 City elections, Liverpool became the first city in modern times to be governed by Liberals, winning 48 of the 99 seats on the City Council.

    In the meantime, Trevor oversaw the use of those techniques in the Sutton & Cheam parliamentary by-election in December 1972 where Graham Tope (now Lord Tope) came from third place, 18,000 votes behind the Conservatives to win by over 7,000 votes. The result revived the Liberal Party after its electoral drubbing in 1970 when it had elected only six MPs.

    As Party President, Trevor toured the country attending meetings of party members persuading them to adopt the mantra that he taught me, 'the object of the exercise in any election campaign is to find out the issues on peoples' minds and deal with those issues'. This meant getting something done about those issues, then finding a printer and putting out a series of leaflets telling people what you had done and involving them in campaigns. It was revolutionary then and this approach transformed the way in which elections were run.

    Trevor's protégé in those early days was a Young Liberal, called David Alton, who had chosen Liverpool to do his teacher training having been inspired by what Cyril Carr and Trevor Jones were reported as doing in the weekly 'Liberal News'. David later became Trevor's Deputy on the Council and the Liberal parliamentary candidate in Liverpool Edge Hill. When a by-election occurred there on the eve of the 1979 General Election, the Liberal Party was at just 5% in the polls. I was a young but full-time volunteer helping organise the campaign that Trevor and David directed. The gaining of the seat from Labour, with a 28% swing, was what saved the Liberal Party in the 1979 General Election.

    Trevor at his best was a truly inspirational Liberal who had a 'gut instinct' that helped determine how people felt about issues and how to campaign on them. I spent many hours listening to him about campaigning, messaging and leaflets when I took over writing many of the Focuses in Liverpool, whilst he led the Council. He always pointed proudly to the first Sutton & Cheam by-election Focus on his office wall, with the heading 'Death stalks the crossroads' showing how to write a leaflet to capture peoples' attention, and he spoke of the AIDA formula (Attention, Interest, Desire and Action) being the key to success.

    It was from Trevor that I learned much of what I know about election campaigning and then sought to spread across the party when I became a key member of parliamentary by-election teams, eventually overseeing how his techniques could be developed, modernised and professionalised as the Lib Dems won 13 parliamentary by-elections between 1990 and 2006, often at critical points for the party's survival and revival. These by-elections provided to be the models for campaigning in our target seats as we increased our number of MPs to 62 by the time of the 2005 General Election.

    For all that Liberals and Liberal Democrats have achieved over all the decades, much is really owed to 'Jones the Vote'.

  • Polling station
    Article: Aug 29, 2016
    In Letter to The Guardian, published Monday 29th August

    Your report about forthcoming Westminster constituency boundary changes (Constituency review 'will hit Labour hard', 29 August) suggests that only existing constituencies outside the new quota range are under threat. In fact, all constituencies (apart from the island exemptions) are under threat because changes to any constituency boundaries may have significant knock-on consequences for other seats in a region. It is not the case that seats within the quota range are necessarily going to be "saved" while others are "abolished". All seats may be subject to significant reorganisation.

  • Ballot Paper
    Article: Aug 15, 2016
    In Letter to The Guardian, published Monday 15th August

    It is ironic that a former chairman of the Conservative party criticises the independent Electoral Commission for acting "as a commentator and lobbyist on policy and law" (Electoral fraud crackdown may bring police cordons to poll sites, 12 August) while unilaterally proposing significant changes to our electoral laws.

  • Front page of Evening Standard newspaper reporting David Rendel's by-election win in Newbury
    Article: May 17, 2016

    Sad to hear of the death of David Rendel, victor of the 1993 Newbury by-election

    David Rendel was not a local choice to fight the Newbury constituency when he was selected by the Liberals there to fight the 1987 General Election there. At his first attempt, he came 17,000 votes behind the Conservatives. But he moved there, Sue became a local GP, they brought up their children there, and he became a local Councillor.

    At his second attempt to win the seat in 1992, he came 12,000 votes behind the new MP Judith Chaplin. In the year after that election, the Lib Dems had virtually disappeared from sight in the national media. But David and the Newbury Lib Dems had by now gained control of the District Council, he was building a strong profile in the Newbury Weekly News and we were the clear opposition to the Conservatives in the spring of 1993 when Judith Chaplin unexpectedly died.

    My friend and former Campaigns Department colleague Tim Payne had rung me with the news. I made him the agent and we assembled a team including many of the party's leading campaigners. Matthew Taylor chaired the morning press conferences (daily in those days). Pat Wainwright, Gerald Vernon-Jackson (later David's agent when he retained the seat), Vicky Young, Katy Vigar, Ben Rich and James Gurling were amongst them.

    At that point, the Conservatives had seemed invulnerable after winning a fourth consecutive term in Government. But in the budget of 1993, they went too far when Norman Lamont announced that VAT would in future be added to domestic fuel bills. I organised petitions against this proposal in the local papers, in all our leaflets and targeted direct mail letters. The response was massive and many people had a reason to support us.

    Local campaigns about the future of Greenham Common, the need for a new hospital and to deal with the terrible traffic congestion in Newbury town centre all provided momentum for our campaign. We were helped by the fact that the former Labour candidate said that his party should make way for us. When they did not stand aside, appointing Peter Mandelson as my opposite number to run their campaign, he said that Labour supporters should switch to us.

    David's high personal profile, coupled with a very effective campaign based on the issues that mattered most to the people across Newbury and West Berkshire and the work of the local Lib Dems over many years gave us as a chance. The BBC decided to make a documentary about the campaign and were delighted when 'On the Record', as narrated by the late David Walter, was broadcast on the Sunday after polling day.

    It recorded how we had come from 12,000 behind, for David to win with a landslide 22,005 majority (and a 28% swing). When told of the result in the middle of the night, Paddy Ashdown famously screamed down the phone, "I wanted to be told the majority, not what was our vote." It had to be explained to him that we had won with 37,950 votes (65.1%), compared to the Tories 15,535 (26.9% and Labour's 1,151 (2%).

    The high profile campaign revived the party and boosted us to the mid-20s in national opinion polls. It provided a base from which we could go on to win the Christchurch by-election three months later and was one of four parliamentary by-election gains that we made from the Tories in that Parliament, helping to weaken them and remove their slender parliamentary majority. Norman Lamont (whose Special Adviser was then David Cameron) was sacked shortly afterwards. The campaign helped to show the party a different way of fighting elections and which was hugely successful for us when we doubled our number of MPs in 1997.

    The party owes much to David, the family who supported him and the team of local Lib Dems in Newbury who enabled this to happen.