Brexit, Liberal Democrat prospects and south west England

One aspect of the debate in the Liberal Democrats about how much the party’s messaging should rest on Brexit is the question of south west England. It’s a region that in the past has elected many Lib Dem MPs and councils, yet also one with strong areas of support for Brexit.

Ward and constituency breakdown of European referendum results

Both detailed ward-by-ward and constituency level results for the June 2016 European referendum are now available, using a mix of actual data and careful modelling to fill in the gaps. more

Across the region as a whole, the Remain vote at the 2016 referendum was the third highest for any English region, making the south west rather less Brexity than people sometimes assume.

The south west is, though, a big area. What about the specific seats the Lib Dems might hope to win again, especially down in Devon and Cornwall? The relevance of that question is why I asked Best for Britain if they could dig into this using their recent massive national polling exercise.

Here’s what they found:

Anti-Brexit campaign Best for Britain has exclusively released detailed data modelling on Brexit and the Lib Dems. This modelling, combines a very large poll with detailed census information and data from the Office for National Statistics.

We examined five seats the Lib Dems could win from the Conservatives at the next election: North Cornwall; St Ives; Torbay; North Devon and St Austell & Newquay.

This poll indicates that opposing Brexit could win the Lib Dems a lot of votes. If there was a referendum today then 56% of Labour voters in these constituencies would vote Remain, as well as 34% of Conservative voters. At the last election in 2017 all of these seats were relatively close – so with substantial switching of Labour and Conservative Remain voters, these could swing.

For me, that Labour figure is crucial as squeezing the third party in a constituency is a key part of building the local coalition of core Lib Dem voters, those won over by the local campaigning and candidate and then also tactical voters. That there is also a significant chunk of Conservative Remain voters (and of course in a Conservative-Lib Dem contest winning over one of them counts double as it’s both one down the Conservatives and one up for the Lib Dems), shows that there is a route to victory which doesn’t require the party to lose its anti-Brexit message.

8 responses to “Brexit, Liberal Democrat prospects and south west England”

  1. Lib Dems should try to form alliances with the other fully pro Remain party the Greens candidates stepping down to support the other part according to which has the best chance in any given constituency national or local. This can be pragmatic rather than universal but should be extended.

    • I strongly agree. The final decision has to be left to the local party – never mind the principle, it would be unrealistic to do anything else. But national leadership should strongly encourage a) tactical voting in favour of Remain candidates – LibDem where we can win, whoever has the best chance otherwise – and b) outright pacts where the local party is up for it.

  2. In all this polling is there any research into whether being pro Remain is actually so important that it would switch people’s normal voting pattern (Con, Lab etc) in a General Election or in Council elections? Are Brexit concerns more important to most voters than say a combination of views on a range of issues such as NHS, Education etc etc.

    The idea that there is some sort of automatic transfer from “I am concerned about Brexit” and “I want to reverse the Referendum result” to “..and therefore I will vote Lib Dem instead of my normal Labour or Conservative vote…” does not seem to be born out -so far – by real elections. For example the June 2017 GE result was our worst in electoral history -even worse than in 2015.

    Similarly the May 2017 County elections saw an overnight transformation when Theresa May announced mid election that there was to be a ‘Brexit GE’. Far from boosting the Lib Dem vote (where both national electoral pundits and our local canvassing had previously been predicting some good LD gains) we saw the Cons and Lab votes firm up and the Cons get their best national County Council results for the best part of half a century.

    Sadly, the truth seems to be that Leave voters are, in some cases, motivated enough by that one factor to switch (hence the Cons gains in NE Derbyshire, Mansfield and Stoke for example whilst even Dennis Skinner saw his majority plummet in Bolsover) but Remain voters are not?

    Is there also any polling research into how many LD voters/considerers are being put off by our Brexit stance? Such research did show that 30% of ‘LD Voters actually voted Leave in 2016. Are they likely to return to us when being told variously that ‘true’ Liberals love the EU; that they were too dim to understand what they voted for; that they are elderly Empire lovers who are dieing out; that they are racist? What of those who voted Remain in 2016 but dislike the opposition to a Referendum vote, that every household was told by the Government of the day would be implemented whichever way the vote went?

    In FPTP elections any Party, but small 3rd/4th Parties in particular, have to attract lots of votes from outside their ‘Core’ supporters. Otherwise they just can’t win. If one particular definition of ‘Core’ voters is not in fact switching to us whilst significant numbers of previous considerers are being put off by the single minded appeal to one particular definition of ‘Core’ values, then we could be careering down an electoral blind alley. As in June 2017?

    • Quite right Paul.

      Also, where will identifying so closely with stopping Brexit leave the party once Brexit happens? (Looking like sore losers fighting the last war…?)

      Liberalism is bigger that Brexit.

      • When will Brexit have happened and be over Mike? If the Article 50 process gets stopped (as we hope) then – quite reasonably – Brexiters will continue to make it a big issue and we will need to answer that. If Brexit gets the green light in the spring, then there will still be an implementation period, at the end of which more deals will have to be agreed, which will continue the Brexit debates therefore for however many years the implementation period lasts. And then after that – there will continue to be plenty of scope for debates over whether, for example, Britain should (re)join Euratom. There are years and years and years of Brexit debates to go.

        Or look to other countries with big, controversial trade deals. NAFTA was signed in the 1990s in North America, was a big issue in the 1990s US politics… and was a big issue again in the 2016 US Presidential election.

  3. I’m not sure that pointing to Trump’s success in attacking the ‘Liberal’ NAFTA agreement in 2016 is a good advert for the idea that we (as the tiny fourth Party of UK politics) should continue to put all of our eggs in the basket of opposing the 2016 UK Referendum decision!

    However had we been making some of the practical points you hint at on the details of post Brexit Britain we might have gained more traction, rather than declining to an even worse 2017 GE result than the previous all time worst of 2015. Even with that approach though, I still have seen no actual electoral evidence that majoring on a ‘love in’ with Europe is going to shift lots of voters our way. I would be delighted if you could show me evidence that I am wrong.

    “What do we want? To rejoin Euratom. When we do we want it? Now.” Nope, don’t see it drawing the voters out to man the barricades any time soon.

  4. In reply to Paul Holmes, the poor local election results in May 2017 were predictable as soon as a general election was declared, because we had good reason to expect to win in lots of places where we wouldn’t come first in a general election result. Many people indeed thought they were voting in the general election! It’s to do with local activism paying more dividends in local elections than national, not to do with the issue assumed to be top in the election: in fact, Brexit was never the first issue in people’s minds in the 2017 general election; it was the NHS and social care, plus the competence of the prospective PM.

    Lewisham East showed anti-Brexit Labour voters could come to us and that’s the evidence of people switching membership.

    In the rural and small-town south-west (so defined to exclude Bristol and Plymouth), there has always been a lot of transferability between Liberal (Democrat) and Labour votes: the traditional mindset is that politics is Tories versus the others. Look at any seat in those areas where we won, from David Penhaligon through Paddy Ashdown to Tessa Munt, and squeezing the Labour vote was crucial and happened. That’s why the coalition was so toxic in these seats.

  5. You reinforce my point Simon. There is no evidence that Remain is a key issue in persuading voters to switch to us in elections (of any kind). Yet the Party, already on life support after the Coalition devastation, has made this belief the central factor of its strategy since 2016.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.