With all the attention on Tony Blair there has been very little recently on Charles Kennedy’s position as leader of the Lib Dems. The party has been totally focussed on the June 10 European and elections and the general view is that they are going to do well. But are they? The locals should be good but will the Euro vote prove to be the disappointment that it was five years ago?
A problem is that the Lib Dems always find it hard to meet expectations in the Euro Elections. In June 1999 the party was going through a good period and the ICM poll just before the Euro vote had them at 19%. Yet in the Euro Elections the party polled just 12.1%. Even with a PR voting system they picked up just 10 MEPs – far below what many had predicted.
Where would Charles Kennedy stand if his party’s share of the Euro vote is substantially below the current 20-22% opinion poll ratings? Could this be the pressure point on his leadership? Will the doubts that emerged a couple of months ago re-surface?
Kennedy’s problem is that in the aftermath of the Iraq war there are huge expectations on him and the Lib Dems. June 10 has to be a resounding success and if it isn’t it will provide vital ammunition for those Lib Dems who believe the party would do better if he stoody aside.
This time the overall number of UK MEPs is being reduced because of the enlargement of the European Union and all the parties will be doing well if they can hold onto what they already have. But as Andrew Grice writes in the Indpendent today the Lib Dems are expected to increase their contingent of MEPs by 2 or 3. So the expectations are very high. Can Kennedy deliver?
For Lib Dem campaigners the huge regional constituencies for the European Parliament are a nightmare. In Westminster and local elections the party is brilliant at focusing resources on target seats that it believes that it can win. In the other seats there are Lib Dem candidates but they are fighting what is known in the party as “paper campaigns”. They are there almost in name only.
But how can you target a whole region? This is very difficult. In addition the Lib Dem campaigin is hampered by the party’s positive approach to the EU that does not always resonate with the public mood. The decision to hold the 2004 local elections on the same day as the Euro vote should be very helpful because many more voters will be brought to the polls by local council campaigns.
The only betting market on the Lib Dem leadership is the “Party Leaders” on a betting exchange.