To mark the start of 2012, I’m running a series of posts over consecutive days on the main challenges for the Liberal Democrats in 2012. I’ve already written about the four priorities for the party’s new Chief Executive, Tim Gordon, but as the Liberal Democrats are more than just the one man whilst he has four, this series sets out six for the party.
When the May 2012 set of seats were previously contested in May 2008 the party made net gains – up 33 seats overall – despite a 4% fall in the party’s notional national vote share* – down from 27% in 2004 to 23% in 2008.
That should provide only limited reassurance, for in 2011 the figure was down to 16%. In other words, even a significant recovery in the party’s position from May 2011 (and the results in local council by-elections have been improving steadily since that low) would still see a net loss in seats.
However, recovery of some sort for the Liberal Democrats – even if it is not enough to see net gains – is vital. The Mets are especially important as with generally the same wards up for election in 2012 as 2011 year on year comparisons will be straightforward and also as the Liberal Democrat share of the vote in the Mets last year was lower than in any of the three previous decades.
The national political scene of course has an impact on local results, but in most wards local teams can beat the national trend – either by doing spectacularly well or (especially if the closure of public toilets is involved, a rather odd long running traditional way for a Lib Dem group to implode) spectacularly badly.
It is therefore the national scene’s indirect impact via local morale and motivation which is often the most telling and it’s no coincidence that local parties where there has been strong local leadership to get out and talk to people on the doorsteps have consistently had the best results. The willingness of local activists to show positive leadership will be vital – though I’ve no doubt those unwilling to do so will be happy to point fingers at everyone but themselves.
* This figure is an estimate of what the party would have received if the whole country were up for election; i.e. it adjusts from year to year for the differing range of seats up for election.
You can read the full set of challenges here.