The Lib Dems are no longer a national party

9th November, 2012 9:05 am

Next week, if you’ve forgotten (which you possibly have), PCC elections are taking place across Britain. They promise to be farcical, with candidates quitting, candidates who aren’t candidates and candidates being investigated for fraud. And that’s before we get onto the fact that most candidates have no budget, there’s no freepost available to them and as the election isn’t happening in London, much of the media are pretending it isn’t happening.

Unsurprisingly then, turnout is expected to be around the 10% mark.

But it would be a shame if lack of interest/scrutiny were to obscure one of the most interesting revelations from the election – the Lib Dems are no longer a national party.

Across England and Wales next week they will stand just 24 PCC candidates – contesting a little over half of the positions. To put it another way, they’re standing the same number of candidates as UKIP. If both win none of the races (which seems likely), UKIPs claim that they are overtaking the Lib Dems gains credence. After next year’s Euro elections it should become accepted fact.

Of course when Nick Clegg was asked at PMQs this week why the Lib Dems were standing so few candidates, he didn’t admit this historic decline. Instead he cited party democracy. That’s an incredibly important thing, of course, but it doesn’t ring true here. What party member would oppose standing a candidate in an election they thought they could win? Especially from a party as fiercely wedded to electoralism as the Lib Dems.

The fact is the yellows have chosen to focus on areas where they are at least notionally competitive, and won’t be beaten too badly. And the fact that they’re in dire financial straits probably doesn’t help either.

Clegg’s party – especially if still led by the DPM – was already at risk of becoming a party of the margins come 2015. Some of the areas they had begun to become comfortable in (the North, parts of Scotland, inner London) now look inhospitable at best and downright hostile at worst. The areas they are more secure in (the South West for example) are still at risk from Tories wanting to vote for “the real thing” (not a pale yellow Tory-lite), and tactical Labour voters no longer able to stomach support for Clegg’s cutters.

And we haven’t even talked about the by-elections yet either…

Once upon a time by-elections in places like Cardiff, Corby, Manchester (and then Croydon, Rotherham and Middlesbrough) would have been relished by Lib Dem activists and leadership alike. Now there is the disastrous possibility of six lost deposits in the kind of working class towns and cities that despise what the Tories are doing to the country and aren’t best pleased at the complicity of their “partners” in government.

In 6 days, we will witness the full extent of the Lib Dem collapse, not in polls, but in cold, hard, uncomfortable votes. But the path to that collapse has already been paved. The Lib Dems are no longer a national party. They are of the fringes, geographically and politically. Politically and organisationally, that has been their choice.

Or to put it more simply – they’re toast.

  • christof_ff

    The LibDems are badly damaged, no doubt, possibly even terminally, but UKIP aren’t going to be a threat to anyone. They’re a mirror image of Respect but without a convenient demographic to exploit.

  • Liam

    I hope you accept this message because I would like to counter the main part of your article.

    Unlike the other two parties, especially Labour, we have a great internal democracy. Each regional party has a great autonomy, much more than the other two parties. We allow the regions to decide electoral priorities, which is exactly what we’ve chosen to do with PCC elections this time

    It’s simply misleading to say “the LibDems are no longer a national party”. I could say that about Labour, just as misleadingly, based on the number of candidates in local elections for Labour in the south of England, or in the Scottish Borders.We’re a national party choosing regional priorities, it’s that simple.

  • Tatraman

    Here in Devon they are claiming to be different Lib Dems than the party in
    Westminster. At Devon County Council, they have virtually given up
    opposing the Tories. The leader of the Labour Group summed it up by
    calling Liberal Democrats ‘Mice in Sheeps clothing’ sums it up really!

  • Charlie_Mansell

    I know we keep hearing this 10% turnout narrative, but when people get a poll card -we do see turnouts generally of at least of 23%. For example the much-derided Euro-elections of 1999:,_1999_(United_Kingdom) I think this happens because people recall the 10% turnouts in inner city Liverpool wards and disregard the overall turnout average. I would have thought this election will be in the mid 20’s at the every least. Council by-elections at this time of year tend to get that. For example I cannot imagine a place like Surrey (where I was a PPC twice) much below 33% when people realise it is a Council Tax precepting authority. 

  • Ironknee

    But I like toast, but not the Lie Dems

  • Amber_Star

    The LibDems are burnt toast.

    The PCC elections, on the other hand, are done to a turn; they’re a gift from the Tories to Labour & the unions. No turnout is too small for a valid election to have been held. LOL. Thanks, Mrs May!

  • Daniel Filson

    The Liberals were once reduced to few enough to fit into a Ford Popular, but recovered enough thanks to Labour splits to get where they are today. I would not write them off until they are gone from Parliament entirely.

  • Kevin McNamara

    um, a party that opposes directly-elected positions and would rather spend money on elections we think more important? the money spent on a pcc election takes away from money that will make the difference between wins and losses in lots of council seats.

  • markfergusonuk

    Good job the Lib Dems have converted to opposing elected people. There won’t be many elected Lib Dems in a couple of years…

  • uglyfatbloke

    Lib-Dems at risk in parts of Scotland? That’s one way of putting it. Last month the Libs were polling a mere 2 points behind the SNP.. but that is in Northern England.
    In Scotland they are polling at about 3%…of course margin of errot may mean that they are really polling at 6%…or at 0%…take your pick.
    In Scotland they stand to lose every Westminster constituency bar two. If Ming Campbell stands again they will probably keep NE Fife because he is so well known. They will certainly keep Orkney & Shetland because Carmichael is widely (and rightly) seen as a decent and industrious bloke who is not innately hostile to either devo-max or independence.
    All the other Lib-Dem seats will be lost – one to Labour and the rest to the Gnats.

  • Charlie_Mansell

    Further to my earlier post, the latest polling indicates turnout may well be more in line with local elections in the early 2000’s: Asking people about voting months ahead for an election they are not aware of is always likely to get a poor result. I’m currently telephone canvassing in a ward by-election in my constituency and today was the day some poll cards arrived and I could tel people started thinking about the by-election. Asking about turnout when poll cards are with people is the time to poll on turnout

  • Ian Young

    Interested to know how a Lib Dem vote collapse would effect Labour.

    In a seat where Labour is a close second to the Lib Dem it may be an advantage but in the South and West, Lib Dems are elected on the back of Labour tactical votes.
    Could this mean that the denial of those Labour tactical votes at the next election will result in more Tory victories?


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