The 3.5 million Leave-voting Labour supporters have got a lot of attention. Until very recently, very little attention has been paid to another 3.5 million: the Remain-voting Conservatives.
Long-time readers of this blog will have seen me notice them. Indeed, their existence in the sorts of areas that had local elections this May is why I predicted back in May last year just how momentous this year’s local elections could be:
Peering into the details and the patterns behind the Liberal Democrat performance in [the 2018] local elections, one intriguing political opportunity presents itself [for May 2019]. The party did best in shire district elections up against the Conservatives. There appear to be rich pickings for the party from Remain voters in such areas who are unimpressed by Brexit and unimpressed by the government’s wider record.
It opens up the possibility of the scale of headline seat gains that, in the same cycle of elections in 1991, gave the party a net 531 gains.
Those pickings turned out to be far richer than even my post imagined. Partly as a result, and amplified by their role in the European election results, those 3.5 million Conservative Remainers are now getting rather more attention.
There are some useful lessons for the Liberal Democrats in all this.
First, let’s take a look at the BBC’s mapping of the Liberal Democrat vote share in the European elections.
There’s a huge swathe of strength around London and much of the Home Countries stretching a long way west and also up into the Midlands. Further north and west is by no means all areas of relative weakness, but the areas of strength are fewer in number.
This is a form of political dry rot eating away at the foundations of the Conservative Party.
That picture is reinforced by Ian Warren’s analysis of “affluent rural authorities”. Here the Lib Dems were up on 33%, higher even than the 28% in university towns:
The other area of particular Lib Dem strength, coming in just fractionally lower than those affluent rural areas, was in places like Bromley, Windsor and Maidenhead, St Albans, Woking and Wycombe, tagged as “rural-urban mix”:
There are rich Liberal Democrat electoral picking to be had in such areas in a successful general election.
Moreover, here’s the analysis of Patrick English for the European election results:
While both the Lib Dems and Greens are certainly competing for the anti-Brexit/pro-Remain vote, there are very important differences and nuances beneath this enormous group of voters, for whom the Lib Dems and Greens have different appeals.
The Lib Dems appear to be doing much better in areas with more wealthy, economically active, recent-Conservative Remain voters. While we can suggest that Greens are doing much better in Remain areas with more ethnically diverse, less economically secure, and recent-Labour voters.
It’s hard to see the Conservative leadership election resulting in a candidate who is keen to focus on retaining and winning back this group of voters who are switching to the Lib Dems. Likewise, it is hard to see Labour, at least under its current leader, really wanting to appeal to such voters. Demonising rather than winning over Conservatives is the default attitude in favour under Jeremy Corbyn.
There is plenty of space here for the Liberal Democrats to prosper. Moreover, that different group who the Greens are more successful at appealing to shows also how an approach focused heavily on Brexit can be expanded to be not only an appeal to more affluent areas.
Provided, that is, the Liberal Democrats stick to the task of wanting to build a renewed voter base that comes from the party’s values, making it more durable and more effective than the previous far more disparate electoral coalitions the party has put together.