The Liberal Democrat challenges for 2011: winning elections

Over the festive season I’m running a series of posts on the main Liberal Democrat challenges for 2011. You can find all the posts in the series here.

Yesterday I took a look at the economy, an issue on which Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will sink or swim together. Where the parties will be directly fighting each other will be in the ballot box, both in the big round of scheduled elections in May, in by-elections all through the year and in the AV referendum, where most Conservatives will be lined up on the ‘no’ side.

The combination of huge fluctuations in opinion polls during the last Parliament and in the general election campaign with a fixed-term Parliament means that the political impact of opinion poll ratings is more muted than in the past. Media pundits, in particular, are now less prone to draw firm conclusions about an election several years away based on a measure which they have seen move all over the place in previous years.

But the reality of votes in ballot boxes has a strong drip-drip effect on party morale and activity and the occasional high profile contest will – rightly – get wider attention.

May’s normal elections, the AV referendum and the Oldham by-election are the three main tests here. Imagine how different politics would look in mid-May if all three went well for the party compared to if all three went badly, for example.

The strength of the cross-party grassroots campaign for a Yes vote, combined with some of the polling results and the increasing profile from Labour Yes campaigners are promising signs for the referendum. For the others, the motivation of Liberal Democrat activists will be very important – and so is the topic of tomorrow’s challenge.

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