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.