Tuesday, May 09, 2006

After the local elections

The most notable fact about the local elections, as far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned, is that nothing much happened.

Our most disappointing loss was Islington, but that seems to be down mostly to a misguided campaign strategy which saw us neglecting supposedly safe seats in an attempt to win even more from Labour. One of our most encouraging victories was at Richmond upon Thames, but having lived there 20 years ago and seen the quality of the people in the local party and its superb organisation I am baffled that we ever lost it in the first place.

There were other encouraging gains against Labour in London, and a few more good results outside the capital, such as South Lakeland. But some of these took place in constituencies we already hold at Westminster. Apart from that in most places we stayed the same or slipped marginally backwards.

Some will say that these results represent a wonderful bouncing back from our troubles at the turn of the year. But there was little sign at Dunfermline or in local by-elections that we were in trouble with the voters then. The idea that we were came from an overemphasis on a couple of opinion polls.

The Tories did well in the South East but in few other places. People have commented on the fact that they still have no councillors in Liverpool or Manchester or Newcastle, which is remarkable enough. But in many ways it is more remarkable that they now have no councillors in Oxford or Cambridge either.

From this I conclude that - unless things change - the next election is likely to be rather like the last one for the Liberal Democrats. We will struggle to avoid losing a few more seats to the Tories in the South and we shall probably gain a few from Labour (or even the Tories) elsewhere through local campaigning. The "university" seats we won from Labour last time - Bristol West, Leeds North West, Cardiff Central - may well be held more comfortably than some we took in 1997 from the Tories.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that we Liberal Democrats are close to exhausting the incremental strategy we have followed so far. Local campaigning will continue to win us the odd seat. But in order to make a further breakthrough we shall have to develop policies that appeal to voters outside our current areas of strength.

The questions then become whether we agree on enough as a party to be able to do that and whether we have the skills to put them across in the national media when we have done so.

On a brighter note the results - a modest Conservative revival in the South but nowhere else - make it quite likely that we shall hold the balance of power after the next election. Again we have to be clear what we want to achieve. Bringing in proportional representation does not represent a complete programme for a five-year parliament.

1 comment:

Peter Pigeon said...

Good post. I have commented on it here