So it was not encouraging to see the party lose its deposit by failing to reach even 5 per cent in yesterday's by-election.
And Stephen Tall's conclusion on Liberal Democrat Voice that the result is a reflection on the impact on joining the Coalition, "especially in northern areas like Greater Manchester," is more depressing when you recall that we hold two of the neighbouring constituencies.
And it's worse than that: as Tony Dawson points out in a comment on the same post:
The Liberal Democrats in Manchester, having been an effective and credible opposition to Labour in the City up till 2010, have lost ALL of their Councillors two years in a row. Following a ‘gap year’ they have just lost a deposit in a by-election.But leaving the result aside, there was something odd about our team's reaction to the result.
Chris Mason goes on to say:
All the Lib Dem activists at the count, and the party's candidate, Mary Di Mauro, refused to talk to journalists.
And after the votes had been counted, she still wouldn't talk.At the very best, she was the victim of some very poor media advice. But maybe there is more to it than that.
It's not unreasonable to say she wasn't exactly overwhelmed by support from the party nationally in this campaign.
A few local MPs chipped in, but the big guns in London clearly concluded it wasn't worth the train ticket.Fighting a parliamentary by-election when you have know chance of winning is a thankless task, but some - notably Zuffar Haq and Jill Hope, in neighbouring constituencies to Harborough - have done so with a good grace.
If Mary Di Mauro and her team were left feeling so unloved, it is a poor reflection on the party's leadership.
Part of David Cameron's problems with his own backbenches stem in part from his refusal to make any effort to woe them. I hope Nick Clegg is not making the same mistake.