Or is Chris Hune indulging in a little wishful thinking?
Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem spokesman on Home Affairs, has written an article for LibDem Voice that seeks to reassure activists the party will in fact do better at the next election than the prophets of doom suggest.
He writes: “The new conventional wisdom at Westminster is that the Conservatives are heading for an overall majority at the next election, and that the Liberal Democrats are therefore bound to take a pounding. On this view, the Lib Demsâ€™ fortunes are inextricably linked with Labour and we are supposed to lose seats as we did when the Conservatives won in 1951, 1970 and 1979.
I donâ€™t believe a word of it. After each Liberal Democrat advance â€“ in 1997, 2001 and now 2005 â€“ the commentariat has written our obituary. But we went on to increase our seats at the next election. We can and will do the same again.”
The general structure of the argument is that a swing which provides for a narrow Conservative majority doesn’t cause as much damage as is commonly believed, especially when you factors in LibDem gains from Labour. Added to that the ‘first-term incumbancy factor’ that LibDems have seemed to have recently, and he concludes that the overall number of MPs serving under Nick Clegg will remain the same.
This is a well-written and well-referenced article (few senior politicians deal in actual psephology, preferring tub-thumping), but I wonder if it still tinged with a little optimism. I don’t believe that the Tory majority will be huge at the next election, but i would not surprise me if the swing radically exceeded the 6.9% Huhne uses for his example (which would give the Conservatives a single-figure majority).
My other concern is that this looks at the three-way game – Lib/Lab/Con. As I suggested to Ed Davey, the Lib Dem prospects are actually worst in Scotland and Wales where, outside the capital cities that have a base of LibDem councillors, there is already an alternative to both the Tories and Labour in the SNP and Plaid Cymru. This could cost Nick Clegg up to three MPs in Wales and even more in Scotland.
I think that Mr Huhne makes a strong case that reports of the death of the Liberal Democrats have been severely overstated, but I wonder if equalling (let alone increasing) their number of MPs on 2005 is still something of a bridge too far.
Betting note from Mike Smithson The current numbers on the Lib Dems on the Commons spread markets are 45-48 seats. So if Chris had a bet at Â£100 a seat and they got the 63 seats that they currently have then he’d pick up Â£1,500.