Saturday, June 28, 2008

Thoughts after the Henley by-election

Sad as it has been to see the European Championship take place without England, it has been restful in a way. Because we have been spared the media overreaction that always accompanies such tournaments.

In the run up we are told that England are the greatest and are bound to win it. Then when we go out, after one of those epic defeats in which we specialise, we are told that English football - if not English society - needs a thorough overhaul if we are ever to hope to win anything again.

Media reaction to the Liberal Democrats is a little like that. If we are not winning by-elections and threatening to sweep to power at the next general election then we are in terminal decline and facing annihilation at that election.

The truth is more mundane. For a decade now the Liberal Democrats have held several dozen seats and enjoyed the support - in elections and opinion polls - of a something like a quarter of the electorate. We are unlikely to form the next government, but then we are not going to be wiped out either.

Henley does not add much to this picture. It is silly to read too much into the result, but we should be pleased that we held (even increased) our share of the vote against a resurgent Conservative Party but disappointed that we were less successful than the Tories in winning over disaffected Labour supporters.

So the outlook for the next general election remains what it was before Henley. We will do well to hold all the former Conservative seats we hold in the South, but there is no reason why we should not make gains from Labour elsewhere.

Two other points...

Am I alone in finding Lib Dem tactics overly negative these days? It was legitimate to question John Howell role as a lobbyist for a planning company, given that he presented himself as a champion of the green belt, but I was less convinced by the fuss we made about how much of a part he had played in the campaign to save a local hospital.

Given that out candidate was living in Plymouth at the time, it is unlikely that he played much of a part either.

Does this approach, which is more and more typical of Lib Dem campaigning, reflect our lack of a clear, positive message?

And - the second point - should we stop priding ourselves on how hard we work? I can remember local by-elections where the voters have commented favourably on it, but they soon come to take it for granted.

We would do better to ask ourselves why we find it so much harder to persuade people to vote for us than the other parties do.

For more discussion of the Henley result see Chris Rennard and Stephen Tall on Liberal Democrat Voice.


Anonymous said...

Horrors! An overly negative Lib Dem by-election campaign? Who'da thunk they'd see the day, eh?

Anonymous said...

I don't think the criticism of the Tory caniddate was that he hadn't done much in the hospital campaign, but that he claimed it be one of his proudest achievements, when he hadn't actually done much.

dreamingspire said...

Stephen Tall is quoting Mark Littlewood, and I agree with Mark's suggestion that LDs should put together a policy for downsizing big govt - i.e. a route to a govt that takes less of our money. My own experience of living in an area that for a while recently had a couple of LD run LAs was that the LDs were short on management ability, which of course is an area where the Tories would have you believe that they are experts. Not too far from me is an area where LDs have been given a longer term chance and have learned how to do it - but learning on the job is not good enough. Liberal policy + management ability = something different that ought to be attractive.