Back to school for the Lib Dems

As discussed here our “local” Lib Dems aren’t too strong on geography. They are clearly still a bit confused.

In a recent Blackheath ward leaflet the Lib Dems spoke about Lee, Forest Hill, Downham and Ladywell but seemed not to have got anything worth saying about Blackheath itself.

I have also been given a number of leaflets around the ward claiming that it is a two horse race. This was rather reminicent of the 2005 general election where my Lib Dem opponent claimed it was a two horse race between them and Labour even though they were (and still are) in third place.

Just in case you were thinking about taking those silly graphs seriously here is the Channel 4 fact checker’s assessment of their mathematical skills.

Lib Dems mix and match results to tell winning story
4 April 2005

12-vote gap was actually 7,280 in 2001

“Just 12 votes to win!”Letter from Lib Dem prospective candidate for Islington South and Finsbury Bridget Fox, 31 March 2005

FactCheck has unearthed Liberal Democrat election material which gives a misleading picture of some candidates’ chances at the forthcoming General Election. In former Culture Secretary Chris Smith’s Islington South constituency, for example, the Lib Dems suggest their candidate is only a dozen votes away from ousting Labour.”Just 12 votes to win!” enthuses a letter sent by Lib Dem prospective parliamentary candidate Bridget Fox.

But a glance at the results in June 2001 tells a different story. In fact, Mr Smith held the seat with a majority of 7,280 ahead of the second-placed Lib Dem candidate.

Across London, local party activists in Wimbledon have added results from their own constituency with those from two neighbouring seats, to suggest they are best placed to take it from Labour. As FactCheck explains below, this gives a distorted view of the party’s real position in Wimbledon. And in former Tory Cabinet Minister Peter Lilley’s constituency of Hitchin and Harpenden Lib Dems use recent local election results to suggest they are second behind the Tories. In fact, they came third in 2001.

While the Liberal Democrats may have good reason to feel confident of putting in a strong performance at the General Election, few of the leaflets seen by FactCheck stand up to close scrutiny.

Islington South
The Islington South mailshot qualifies the “12 votes to win” claim by saying, in smaller type, that it refers to 2004 local elections when “just 12 votes separated Bridget Fox’s Liberal Democrats and Labour”.

These results come from the 2004 elections to the Greater London Assembly, when Islington South was part of London’s much larger North East constituency. The Lib Dems have added up the number of votes cast in those elections in the wards that make up the Islington South constituency, and used the result to judge the gap between the contenders at the General Election.

Wimbledon
The Merton Liberal Democrats website states that “the only serious challenge to Labour in Wimbledon will come from the Liberal Democrats”. A bold claim, given the Liberal Democrats managed to take only 13 per cent of the vote in 2001, coming a poor third to Labour on 45.7 per cent and the Conservatives on 36.6 per cent. The website has added that poor result to two much better results – in Kingston and Surbiton and Sutton and Cheam, both won by the Liberal Democrats – to generate an average. The Lib Dems could have chosen another neighbouring constituency, such as Mitcham and Morden, but that would have told a less rosy story – the party came last in Mitcham and Morden four years ago with just 10.1 per cent of the vote.

Hitchen and Harpenden
A Lib Dem leaflet delivered to residents of Peter Lilley’s constituency, Hitchen and Harpenden, states that “it’s a two horse race here!”. To back up the claim, the leaflet carries a bar chart showing the Conservatives on 48 per cent, the Lib Dems on 32 per cent and Labour on 16 per cent. These percentages are based on the most recent local election results for the 18 wards which fall inside the geographical boundaries for the constituency – a simple sum of all the votes cast.

Compare these percentages with the last General Election. In 2001 the Conservatives won with 47.3 per cent, Labour had 32.5 per cent and the Lib Dems came third with 18 per cent of the vote. The 1997 election yielded similar statistics. Of the 18 wards the Liberal Democrats used to tell their story, they won just four.

And the rest
FactCheck was inundated with Lib Dem leaflets. Here’s a selection of the others we received.

Basingstoke: The Lib Dems in Basingstoke compared the 2001 result with the most recent local elections to demonstrate a dramatic increase in their support. This disguises the fact that between 1997 and 2001 their share of the General Election vote went down from 17.0 per cent to 13.9 per cent.

Maidstone and Weald: The Lib Dems in Ann Widdecome’s seat use the number of borough councillors in Maidstone and Weald to predict General Election progress, but in both 1997 and 2001 they ranked third in the voting, gaining just 22.4 and 19.9 per cent of the vote in respective years.

South Ribble: The Liberal Democrats in South Ribble cite the percentage difference between the votes the parties received in 1997 and 2001, hiding the fact that they only gained 15.5 per cent of the total vote in 2001.

Wembley Central: A party leaflet distributed in Wembley Central talks of the Lib Dems’ by-election result in Brent East. But Wembley Central is in the Brent South constituency.

FactCheck also saw leaflets from North Dorset, Wells and Orpington. All three make claims which are true no matter which way you look at them.

The explanation
Responding to FactCheck’s findings, a Liberal Democrat spokeswoman said: “The Liberal Democrats in local areas will of course highlight statistics which demonstrate our growing strength in the locality as well as reflecting our much higher levels of support in opinion poll surveys and Labour’s marked decline compared with the same period before the 2001 General Election.”

She insisted that none of the statistics used were “wrong or invalid” and added that local parties had been advised to reference all statistics clearly.

Now it’s your turn
Seen any other election leaflets with surprising statistics? FactCheck would love to see them as well. Please mail, post or fax your leaflets. You’ll find our email and postal addresses in the Contact us section. The fax number is 020 7430 4607.

Sources
General Election Results 1997 (PDF), Parliament website
General Election Results 2001 (Excel), Electoral Commission
Keele University General Election Results by Constituency
Lib Dem Watch
Merton Liberal Democrats
South Ribble Liberal Democrats

6 responses to “Back to school for the Lib Dems

  1. I haven’t seen this Blackheath ward leaflet so I can’t comment on that specific graph, but if it’s putting the LibDems in second in Blackheath, that sounds right.In the 2002 election, Labour came 1st, 2nd and 3rd; the LibDems came 4th, 5th and 6th; and the Conservatives came 7th, 8th and 9th, followed by a Green and a UKIP.

  2. I haven’t seen this Blackheath ward leaflet so I can’t comment on that specific graph, but if it’s putting the LibDems in second in Blackheath, that sounds right.In the 2002 election, Labour came 1st, 2nd and 3rd; the LibDems came 4th, 5th and 6th; and the Conservatives came 7th, 8th and 9th, followed by a Green and a UKIP.

  3. Anonymous,The Blackheath leaflet had a graph which put the parties in the right order but the spacing on the graph made the Lib Dems look as if they were just behind Labour and the Conservatives a long, long way behind in third place.The truth is that the Conservatives were only 120 or so votes behind the Lib Dems, hardly a two horse race.The drawing of the graph is clearly designed to mislead the voters in Blackheath. My question too you is this. What does it say about this party if they are so willing to intentionally deceive voters just to get elected?

  4. Anonymous,The Blackheath leaflet had a graph which put the parties in the right order but the spacing on the graph made the Lib Dems look as if they were just behind Labour and the Conservatives a long, long way behind in third place.The truth is that the Conservatives were only 120 or so votes behind the Lib Dems, hardly a two horse race.The drawing of the graph is clearly designed to mislead the voters in Blackheath. My question too you is this. What does it say about this party if they are so willing to intentionally deceive voters just to get elected?

  5. Well you know what they say about stats don’t ya. I have seen the Blackheath leaflets and it looks okay to me. Graphs can be drawn in many ways and I have seen Conservative leaflets (and Labour ones and LibDem ones) far worse than that one!Colin

  6. Well you know what they say about stats don’t ya. I have seen the Blackheath leaflets and it looks okay to me. Graphs can be drawn in many ways and I have seen Conservative leaflets (and Labour ones and LibDem ones) far worse than that one!Colin

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