Nick Clegg speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Lib Dems need to start telling us what they'll be fighting for in 2015

At Spring Conference, some of the manifesto raw meat needs to be presented and debated.

I’m feeling a little unloved. Many regular commentators on my posts here at The Staggers will be completely unsurprised by this revelation and will no doubt be having a quick snigger at my expense, but let me clarify what I mean. Because it’s not just me. The Lib Dems as a party seem to have dropped off the news media’s radar altogether.

The floods seem to be hung on the Tories, with special guest appearances by ex-Labour ministers, while UKIP keep their hand in by pinning the blame for the whole thing on the advent of gay marriage. Nary a mention of the Lib Dems. The news that the Scots may have to look elsewhere for their currency if they vote for independence also seems to be owned by a combination of George Osborne and Alistair Darling.

The good folk of Wythenshawe and Sale East may have doomed us to our eighth lost deposit in 15 by-elections (sooner or later someone in HQ is going to start noticing that trend and maybe worry about it a bit) but we still came fourth – not quite bad enough to make us interesting and certainly not enough to stop UKIP being the main story (although there seems a bit of a debate about whether coming second in a by-election once again is a good or bad result for them).

Even The Staggers seems to have forgotten us, with just two of the last 30 stories from the UK’s foremost political publication focusing on one of the two parties in government (no doubt my editor is thinking 'yes, well, if you pulled your finger out a bit more...'  but you get my drift).

So why is this? After all, it’s almost making me hanker after the days when a good non-sex scandal meant we dominated the front pages. Well, can I suggest it may be something to do with the differentiation strategy – you know, the one where whenever the Tories do something, almost anything, we give a sharp intake of breath and say "I don’t think that seems terribly sensible."

Don’t get me wrong, I like it when we do that. But the press are only going to write "another coalition row" so many times before they get bored with it. And I think that time has come. So we need to start following up that sharp intake of breath with an alternative plan, an explanation of what we would rather do instead. And when we do – for example, the raising of the tax threshold – then suddenly the headlines start appearing once again.

It may be chucking it down outside, but Spring Conference is just around the corner, and I hope some of the manifesto raw meat is going to presented and debated. It’s time we started telling people a little more of what we’ll be fighting for in 2015 – both in the election, and, if needs be, in the coalition negotiations.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.