Sunday, January 15, 2006

Who Decides?

Judging the dynamics of the Lib Dem leadership election is a rather difficult affair. The 70,000 members are rather hard to poll, as only the central party has definitive membership records, so it is hard for the pollsters to reach us. Even YouGov relies on what their voluntary sample claim, meaning that many alleged Lib Dem members they quiz may not be-- indeed, UKIP are known in the past to have instructed their members to sign up in order to schew the surveys. That's not to say, they aren't the best way of judging momentum, but they're probably more important for creating momentum than they are for accurately sampling current feeling.

So what will actually inform Lib Dem members? Lots will read newspapers, so obviously their judgements will matter. While there's a bias towards the Guardian and Independent, I've been told more Lib Dem voters (at least) actually read the Telegraph. (It's a separate, and fascinating question, to wonder why the Telegraph is often much kinder to us than other papers).

What about the most efficient methods though? Like Lib Dem campaigns in public elections, grassroots work will be decisive. The best way of persuading someone to vote in a particular way is for a genuine friend to say they are. So, the campaign which best organises its supporters in the country will have an edge.

What publications can act in that way, as trusted sources for members? Lib Dem News, the party newspaper, will remain studiously neutral, so that's not going to influence much. The infamous Liberal magazine of Ben Ramm, young wannabe-Brutus of the Kennedy assassination, is almost certainly unknown outside of Cambridge and people who have had freebie copies sent to them. Ramm apparently supports Simon Hughes, and even if anyone read his magazine, that endorsement is probably going to be as damaging to Hughes as the backing of Migration Watch or the Adam Smith Institute.

No, there's actually one publication that the journos don't know about, that will be more influential than any other: Liberator. It's an institution within the party, which holds almost universal respect from the grassroots members for its irreverent and honest tone. As unlikely as its editors (amongst them Jonathan Calder and Simon Titley) may consider the proposition, it's the only media equivalent of the "best friend's recommendation", which I noted above was the key. Anyone who wants to see how the wind is blowing should see what happens in its next issue...