Opportunity comes in many forms, as nicely captured in the accidentally well-timed new cartoon from one of my favourite comics, Grant Snider:
For the Liberal Democrats, opportunity (and over 4,000 new members) comes in the heart-wrenching form of the European referendum defeat.
Tim Farron has been making an energetic bid to grasp that opportunity. But here’s a conundrum for people all through the party.
More want a 2nd referendum than voted Lib Dem
Over four million people have signed the Parliamentary petition calling for a second referendum.* By contrast, under 2.5 million people voted Lib Dem at the last general election, and that’s a gap big enough to stand even after allowing for signatures from people not qualified to vote, spam sign ups etc.
This highlights the huge opportunity there is for the Liberal Democrats to tap into a pro-European movement which is now far more motivated than it has been for decades. It fits with the point David Howarth and I have long been arguing that pro-Europeans are a key element in building a new, and larger, core vote for the Lib Dems.
But take a look at the distribution around the country’s Parliamentary constituencies of the petition signers (the darker the area, the more signatures come from there):
Two things are worth noting. First, that distribution** does not simply mirror closely to where the Liberal Democrats were strong in the party’s heyday. Building a new core vote means looking not just to targeting places (constituencies or wards) where we used to be strong, but looking forward to where it best for a future, larger and more durable core vote.
Second, in some individual constituencies the numbers signing are simply massive. Over 15,000 people in Jeremy Corbyn’s own Islington North have signed, for example, as have also over 15,000 in the neighbouring former Lib Dem seat of Hornsey and Wood Green. Those are the sorts of volumes which, when about a hospital or other similar local issue in the past, have propelled a change of MP.
Quite how we turn such massive local public feeling into a reason to vote Liberal Democrat – and to start gathering data from and about such people – is a task not just for the national party but also for grassroots campaigners around the country too.
It’s also a task we also all need to rapidly learn. And there’s no better way to do that than to get our campaigning and communicating.
** Update: you can now also study the European referendum result’s geography in more detail as ward-by-ward and Parliamentary constituency level results or estimates are now available.