Antifrank on the GE2020 prospects for Tim Farron’s Lib Dems

Antifrank on the GE2020 prospects for Tim Farron’s Lib Dems

The Lib Dems had a disastrous election in 2015, tallying just eight seats.  Where do they go from here?  Is the only way up?

Well, actually, no.  There is a serious possibility that things could get worse for them in 2020.  Of their eight seats, only one of them looks truly safe on current boundaries: that of their leader, Tim Farron.  Three of their four most marginal seats look as though they may well lose their Lib Dem incumbents: Southport, where John Pugh will be 72 in 2020 and may well be thinking about retirement; Sheffield Hallam, where Nick Clegg is surely unlikely to want to continue his stint as MP; and Orkney & Shetland, where Alistair Carmichael is currently embroiled in a court case over his last campaign.  This would make retaining them so much harder.

It gets worse.  We can expect boundary changes by the time of the next election.  These look likely to cause further problems for the Lib Dems by swamping their seats with unfriendly voters.  Lewis Baston reckons that the Lib Dems might be looking at starting the 2020 election notionally holding just four seats, as this Times article explains (paywalled): Nor do the Lib Dems have a target list stuffed full of easy prospects.  Here it is:

A uniform 5% swing to them gets them just 16 seats.  And their chances of getting such a swing in those seats are dramatically reduced because in most cases (Bath and Fife North East being the exceptions) these are seats where the Lib Dems were incumbents with large incumbency votes. Large numbers of these former incumbents will not be standing in 2020, meaning that any new candidate will be starting from a much lower base.  For example, of the top five Lib Dem targets, former incumbents Vince Cable, Norman Baker and Stephen Lloyd have all already said that they are retiring from politics.

All of these seats now have new incumbents who will be relentlessly working to get their own incumbency bonus.  Not to mention that the boundaries will in all probability be redrawn, so any loyalty to former incumbents will be seriously diluted in many cases.  The Lib Dems will face a stern test to get even a few of these seats back.

In order to have any chance of progress, the Lib Dems would need to show some revival in the national polls.  Since the election, the Lib Dems have flatlined or worse.  Whatever the public’s qualms about Jeremy Corbyn’s menace to national security or about George Osborne’s menace to hardworking poor families, they have yet to conclude that the Lib Dems represent a viable option.  They seem largely to have been forgotten about.  Even the protest vote has found a new receptacle in UKIP.  It is hard to see what might resuscitate them.

So prospects for the Lib Dems look grim.  Unless they can sharply revive in the polls, they look at least as likely to suffer a further decline in 2020 as to improve their tally.  Sharp revivals don’t look on the agenda any time soon.

Ladbrokes are offering some specials on their prospects here:

One bet stands out.  Ladbrokes are offering 11/4 that the Lib Dems will get fewer than 8.5 seats.  I make this at worst an even money bet.  You would have to wait nearly five years to collect, but even allowing for notional interest on your stake this looks like a great bet to me.  Take it.


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