Sean Fear’s Friday Slot

Sean Fear’s Friday Slot

    Where Do the Liberal Democrats Go From Here?

Despite what some Conservatives believe, the Liberal Democrats are not about to disappear. They have almost 4,500 local council seats, and regularly obtain 25-30% of the projected national vote share in local elections. In addition, regardless of their national poll ratings, there are at least 40 Parliamentary seats that are, in my opinion, unloseable for them, because of the large personal votes which their incumbent MPs enjoy.

Nevertheless, if they don’t face obliteration, it’s hard to see how they are going to advance. In my view, Ming Campbell is quite a statesmanlike figure, but the public see him as ineffectual. Their poll ratings are discouraging. Clearly, some soft Tories in the South of England have been won back by David Cameron, while some former Labour voters, who had been alienated by Iraq and civil liberties issues, are at least prepared to give Gordon Brown the benefit of the doubt, for the time being. No doubt the Liberal Democrats will continue to pull off spectacular performances in by-elections, but these seem to have no long term impact.

Historically, the Liberal Democrats did best at times of Conservative unpopularity, and most of their seats are former Conservative ones. Unrealistically, some of them hoped that they could beat the Conservatives into third place (at least in terms of vote share) at the last election. That was never going to happen then, and certainly isn’t going to happen now that the Conservatives’ poll ratings are at least twice as high as those of the Liberal Democrats.

Seeking to eclipse Labour could be a viable alternative strategy, but it is very hard to imagine tribal Labour voters in industrial areas being prepared to vote Liberal Democrat, at least at Parliamentary level. There must be at least 150 Parliamentary constituencies which Labour can’t lose, and as long as that is the case, Labour can never be replaced on the Left. In any case, such a strategy would require the Liberal Democrats to move further to the Left, and my impression is that that would not be welcomed by much of the Party.

Last night’s by-elections showed no significant changes, but were fairly good for Labour, confirming that, for the time being at least, Gordon Brown has boosted Labour’s support.
Gateshead MBC, Dunston and Teams,   Labour 793, Lib Dem, 285,   BNP 131, Conservative   69. A comfortable Labour hold.     
Oldham MBC, West Saddleworth/ Lees. Lib Dem: 745 , Labour 460, Con: 242 BNP: 202 . Another comfortable Liberal Democrat hold. However, Labour saw their vote share rise strongly, while both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives fell back.
North Tyneside, MBC, St. Mary’s. Conservative 1992, Labour  363, Lib Dem  239. A very easy win for the Conservatives in one of their strongest Northern wards.
East Northants DC, Higham Ferrers. Conservative returned unopposed. This is one of three authorities which Labour held in the 1990s where they no longer hold a single council seat.

Sean Fear

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