Leaked document reveals Lib Dems' 'ruthless' targeting plan for last two weeks

The Liberal Democrats will spend the final two weeks of the campaign focused on voters in their target seats who they think could swing the result. Credit: PA

The Liberal Democrats will spend the final two weeks of the campaign 'ruthlessly' focused on 125,000 voters in their target seats who they think could swing the result, according to a briefing to staff that has been leaked to ITV News.

The document suggests that the party has identified a set of voters in Lib Dem-Conservative marginals who are considering voting for the Labour party.

Senior strategists have told colleagues that seats, including in the so-called Blue Wall, south West and more rural parts of England, remain on 'knife-edge' and the only way to beat the Conservatives is to further squeeze the Labour vote.

The slides layout plans for what they call 'the Paddy Playbook' - claiming that in the 1997 election, the then Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown used ruthless targeting and messaging to achieve a swing of 15% towards the Lib Dems in target seats, despite a 1% away from the party across the country.

It claims that Ashdown's focus on the ground-war over the air-war resulted in an overall net gain of 28 seats rising to 46.

The paper points to his messaging being totally focused on education (funded by a 1p income tax rise), saying that this campaign should now focus relentlessly on Ed Davey's promise to fund the NHS (funded by a tax increase on big banks).

The disciplined targeting message echoes what is taking place on the Labour side. It's campaign director, Morgan McSweeney, has a long history of working out how to target the vote.

In Lambeth, in 2006, he and the now shadow environment secretary, Steve Reed, ran a ruthlessly targeted campaign in Lambeth, south London.

By focusing relentlessly on just 13,000 voters with a three-part tailored message based on issues highlighted from doorstep conversation, according to documents I've seen from the time, they managed to win back the entire council from a Lib Dem-Conservative coalition.

In Labour HQ now is also Hollie Ridley, who I've heard described warmly by colleagues as 'field marshal Ridley' for her efforts in directing the entire field operation, and making sure that the focus is on each and every seat that requires resources to get it over the line.

In 2024, I've had a number of Labour MPs in safe seats (softly) complain about the instruction from HQ that they and their campaign teams must spend most of their time in marginal seats they are paired with, knocking on those doors rather than their own. The message back is to point out that this is just a five week push, while they will have five more years to work their seat.

McSweeney has also made sure that the funding is heavily targeted into Labour's 'core battleground' which has shifted even during the election, as polls (and their internal data) suggests which ones are winnable.

The shape of their efforts can be seen to some extent in the tour of their party leader, Keir Starmer, who has been visiting seats with solid Tory majorities (while Rishi Sunak is in a similar battleground playing a much more defensive game).

But there are also seats that are less likely to get a visit from Starmer, that the party has identified as needing more support because of anger among the local Muslim community about Starmer's initial position on Gaza.

If, as the polls suggest, Labour wins a super-majority with a vote share under 40%, it will of course be in part a huge anti-Tory vote, but also down to ruthless targeting from the Labour HQ team.