Half Time Report: How are the Lib Dems doing?


11:32 am - November 20th 2012

by Don Paskini    


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Last week’s election results have generally been regarded as a disaster for the Liberal Democrats. A lost deposit in Corby, no victories in the Police Commissioner elections, no wonder Party President Tim Farron described it as a ‘painful day’.

Half way through the current Parliament, many are predicting that the Lib Dems will be wiped out at the next election.

However, I think that the election results were actually rather good for the Lib Dems, and show that their future may well be brighter than many expect.

The Police Commissioner elections could hardly have been more challenging for the Lib Dems. They were held on a single issue which the party has historically been tarred as ‘soft’ on, across large electoral areas which undermine their ability to deploy effective local campaigning.

And yet, in places like Kent in Tory Middle England and North Wales in Ye Labour Heartlands, ‘Independent’ Liberal Democrats were elected. In the Lib Dem heartlands of Devon and Cornwall, the Tory polled 55,257 to 23,948 for the Lib Dem candidate – but a further 34,780 voted for two ‘Independents’ – both of whom had been Lib Dem councillors.

Meanwhile, in Bristol, Labour activists claimed that ‘Bristol First’ candidate George Ferguson was a Liberal Democrat in disguise. Sure enough, Ferguson won easily in the traditional Liberal Democrat manner by ensuring that anti-Labour voters realised that it was a two horse race and persuading Tory and Lib Dem supporters to back him.

The Lib Dem coalition of support pre-2010 was made up of a small number of people who philosophically believed in economic and social liberalism, a larger number of people on the centre left, and a big group of people who didn’t like party politics and wanted to vote for someone independent minded who would [s]tell them what they wanted to hear[/s] be a local champion. Their challenge was always to ensure that their national policies didn’t get wide enough circulation to undermine their local campaigners (for example, people in the South West who want to leave the EU or tactical Tory voters who don’t believe in rehabilitating prisoners or an amnesty for migrant workers).

Over the past two years, Nick Clegg and his advisers have been determinedly trying to focus the Lib Dem vote down to those who would vote for a European style social and economic liberal party, a triumphant strategy which has been reflected in the opinion polls. As a result, in places without a Lib Dem MP, their share of the vote is likely to collapse at the next General Election. But under the First Past the Post voting system, the net impact of that will be a big heap of so what.

In places where they have an MP, however, then they can run as quasi independents. They can emphasise their independence from the government, point to good local works and remind people that the choice is between them and someone even less appealing. What the PCC elections show is that there are still a good number of people who will vote for the traditional Liberal Democrat two horse race anti-party politics offer, (albeit trading under a different brand name).

It probably won’t work everywhere where they currently hold seats. But if former Lib Dem party members can get elected to run the police in Kent and the council in Bristol, and if the Lib Dem leadership modifies even very slightly its political strategy of alienating all of their former supporters, then 2015 may bring another election with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power.

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About the author
Don Paskini is deputy-editor of LC. He also blogs at donpaskini. He is on twitter as @donpaskini
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Reader comments


Delusional. The focus of hatred will shift towards the Tories next year as the cuts begin to bite really hard but not enough so that people will forget its the LibDems who got into bed with this foul government and Clegg who betrayed all his own promises. I wouldn’t go near a LibDem without a biohazard suit

Frankly it beggars belief that there is a voter left in Britain who is taken in by the lies of all three NeoCon main Parties.
For the love of all that is sacred to you – they are all the enemy.
Are we honestly to believe that David Laws or Chris Huhne are more upstanding individuals than Denis McShane or any Tory you wish to name?
They are not interested in the people who elected them – GET IT.

3. Chaise Guevara

So the take-home here is that Lib Dems can still win elections if they don’t mention which party they’re from?

“I wouldn’t go near a LibDem without a biohazard suit”

No, but you didn’t vote for them last time either – point is that they just need to hang on to enough of their supporters in the right places and they’ll avoid a wipeout.

“It probably won’t work everywhere where they currently hold seats.”

It certainly won’t work up here. The thought of any Invernesian believing that Danny Alexander is a maverick seperated from government policy and working as a moderating influence, rather than someone who suddenly realised he’d been a Tory all along, is laughable.

@3 It does kind of look that way a bit. Still, jaded former Libdems (that’d be a Libdum in Sally terms) like myself can’t help but notice that ‘lying by omission’ isn’t exactly out of character of the Party…

@4 how do you know who I voted for? I have voted Lib Dem in the past since Blair poisoned Labour and would have done so at the last general election had I not been in a constituency where elections are a formality. The only way I’d ever believe a LibDem again is if he was dosed with scopolamine and wired to a car battery

Chaise: “So the take-home here is that Lib Dems can still win elections if they don’t mention which party they’re from.”

In the south of England, some voters are faced with the agonising dilemma of deciding between the LibDems and the Conservatives in marginal constituencies where the Labour vote has been minimal.

“how do you know who I voted for?”

Because I’ve read your past comments on here and you are much too sensible to have done a daft thing like vote Lib Dem in 2010 :)

And yet, in places like Kent in Tory Middle England and North Wales in Ye Labour Heartlands, ‘Independent’ Liberal Democrats were elected.

It’s worth pointing out I think that in Kent the independent who was elected not only did not advertise the fact that she was a Lib Dem, but strenuously denied the allegation as a dirty trick. My wife voted for her as an independent, and was really rather miffed that it looked like a false flag operation. That’s not a tenable option for a General Election…

“Because I’ve read your past comments on here and you are much too sensible to have done a daft thing like vote Lib Dem in 2010″

I voted LibDem in 2010 as the local Conservatives are mostly unspeakably horrible advocates of Micawberism while the constituency is highly marginal with the local Conservatives getting lots of financial support from Ashworth.

The constituency Labour vote is minute – not least because past leaders of the small Labour group on the council were convicted of large scale smuggling of booze and fags while his successor was convicted of corruption: he sought bribes for a vote in the council’s planning committee from someone who had taken the precaution of wearing recording gear. There is now no longer even a small Labour group on the local council.

total misreading of the good news here. Liberal and democratic thought is getting winning votes. Distinctive Lib Dems policies like proportional reputation are off the agenda for the foreseeable. There will be no “late lib dem swing”, and no lib dem protest vote. Lib Dems are spent as a national force.

The better news is UKIP emerging like a Tory “SDP” effectively splitting the right vote. Along with the large swing to Labour, the prospect of the Tories being in government after the next election is becoming as unlikely as it is unnerving.

The lib dem in North Wales only announced it after the election. Although he never denied it, his platform was as an independant appealing to Plaid Cymru voters (supporting the devolution of criminal justice) as Plaid decided not to stand.

All based on the idea that opinion polls are a good predictor of future general elections, they arent. Mid term polling usually shows several predictable patterns- governing parties & the libdems are underepresented while support for the official opposition & whichever “other” is in the news is inflated.
Both Yougov & ICM have the libdems about 3% down, on average, from where they were 5 years ago.

Wacky, low-turnout election like the Euros or police commissioners are even less useful as a signpost.

@12. davidh

Not so sure UKIP are going to do a “Tory SDP”. The pattern seems to be that UKIP have a core vote drawn from pretty nearly all parties, and in elections perceived as unimportant, e.g. Euros, a large Tory protest vote, which faithfully “goes home” at Westminster elections. As long as this happens, UKIp is no national threat to the Tories, though it makes them look bad between elections.

On the Lib Dems, there’s clear evidence that their vote in seats they hold and some they’re closely behind in is holding up. Add to that a “We restrained the Tories” campaign targetted at Labour voters and coupled with a “Vote for us or the Tories get in” campaign, and their results in traget seats might be a lot better than would be expected. Yes, they’ll get hammered in other areas.

I don’t think the Lib Dems can continue as a national party (if they ever really were, as you suggect they may have been a coalition of different parties in different areas)

So in Scotland…. thank you and goodbye, I would be surprised if anyone other than Charles Kennedy survives. The Scots won’t forgive you for letting the Tories in.

In the Northern Cities and most of the Northern Rural areas, again they won’t forgive you for siding with the Tories. The left leaners who didn’t like Labour for various reasons and saw you as more left wing, didn’t want a proxy vote for Cameron. They will not trust you again.
Interesting that this seem to extend as far south as Corby, where your vote seems to have gone straight back to Labour.

In the South West and South East (outside London), there may be a glimmer of hope. But only if you ditch Clegg before the election. You may retain some of your seats. There does seem to be evidence in the Polls that Labour voters in these areas are more forgiving, especailly where Labour is a poor third.

@15 MarkAustin
“On the Lib Dems, there’s clear evidence that their vote in seats they hold and some they’re closely behind in is holding up.”

So do you think they have much chance of holding onto Sheffield Hallam?

“I wouldn’t go near a LibDem without a biohazard suit” and sad to say, neither will I, and I’m ashamed to say I’ve mostly voted Liberal in the past, and did at the last General Election.

The only hope for the Liberal Party to survive now is for them to leave the coalition. I’m convinced of this.

With the connivance of the Liberal Party, George Osborne is strangling our nation. He’s cutting savagely from those at the bottom of the heap which has a huge effect on the money-go-round, decimating demand.

Mind you, some people are dying, 72 sick and disabled are knocked off the books every week now with the encouragement of the benefit assessment process, but I don’t think that’s going to save the coalition by counteracting the loss of taxes that all those worthless unemployed people used to pay, or cover the flight of funds to those who already have it all, now being squirrelled away in the Cayman Islands.

..have voted for lib dems in the past.. never again I can assure you.. I now hate them with a passion..

20. Chaise Guevara

@ 18 Jane

“The only hope for the Liberal Party to survive now is for them to leave the coalition. I’m convinced of this.”

I expect you’re right, especially if they replace Clegg as leader. It might bring back some angry leftie voters, make them a viable option for anti-Tory tactical voting, while still leaving them as a possibility for anti-Labour tactical voting.

17

Sheffield Hallam was traditionally a tory stronghold and I would hazard a guess that the tories lost it to the lib-dems because of demographic changes in which the housing market enabled middle-management and the academic class to purchase in that constituency – those who are not drawn to labour or the tories. I wouldn’t like to guess what will happen in the next election but Clegg’s Sheffield house was sold in 2010.

I suspect that the break-up of the coalition will be a positive benefit to the tories who will argue that it was the lib-dems who constrained implementing certain policies, consequently blaming those constraints for the undoubtable mess the country will still be in.

You sound as delusional as the remaining couple of Lib Dem supporters.

You also fail to take into your rather odd reasoning that police commissioner votes were along the lines of AV and general elections are FPTP, which means that no Liberal Democrat is going to get any 2nd preference votes to help them into power.

Now you have had a chance to assess what happened in Rotherham; Croydon North and Middlesborough, what kind of excuses for the Liberal democrat imploding vote can you come up with now?

For those interested in a local perspective on the Lib Dem drubbing in Croydon North (and how it’s actually par for the course around here), you might find some interesting tidbits in this piece about their historic irrelevance in Croydon, and what kind of problems they had before the current, er, ‘situation':

http://thecroydoncitizen.com/politics/the-strange-absence-of-liberal-croydon/


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Don Paskini

    @stephentall further reasons for you to be encouraged/cheerful http://t.co/RaMY30VZ

  2. Jason Brickley

    Half Time Report: How are the Lib Dems doing? http://t.co/6Xy9Roma

  3. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Half Time Report: How are the Lib Dems doing? http://t.co/mGUD6POm

  4. Eugene Grant

    Half Time Report: How are the #LibDems doing? http://t.co/fp1aXMOW >>> Hmm. Think the 2015 election 'strategy' a bit optomistic, naive even.

  5. Stephen Tall

    A Lab supporter with good news for LibDems MT @donpaskini: @stephentall further reasons to be encouraged/cheerful http://t.co/XuVAwWiV

  6. Louise Shaw

    A Lab supporter with good news for LibDems MT @donpaskini: @stephentall further reasons to be encouraged/cheerful http://t.co/XuVAwWiV

  7. Graham Bates

    A Lab supporter with good news for LibDems MT @donpaskini: @stephentall further reasons to be encouraged/cheerful http://t.co/XuVAwWiV

  8. Rich Clare

    Half Time Report: How are the Lib Dems doing? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/EOtpMyGo via @libcon

  9. Sunny Hundal

    There is a a bright spot for Libdems in the news of last few weeks, says @donpaskini – http://t.co/4Tv4XBG3 #seriously

  10. Paul Nettleton

    Pretence won't wash RT @sunny_hundal: Bright spot for Libdems in ast few weeks, says @donpaskini – http://t.co/12rm8rJl #seriously

  11. Reasons for Lib Dem cheer — as told by Labour and Tory supporters

    […] Half Time Report: How are the Lib Dems doing? (Labour-supporting Don Paskini on Liberal Conspiracy) I think that the [last week's] election results were actually rather good for the Lib Dems, and show that their future may well be brighter than many expect. … The Lib Dem coalition of support pre-2010 was made up of a small number of people who philosophically believed in economic and social liberalism, a larger number of people on the centre left, and a big group of people who didn’t like party politics and wanted to vote for someone independent minded … if former Lib Dem party members can get elected to run the police in Kent and the council in Bristol, and if the Lib Dem leadership modifies even very slightly its political strategy of alienating all of their former supporters, then 2015 may bring another election with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power. […]





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