Edition #34 of Liberal Democrat Newswire came out last week, looking at the party’s prospects for the May local elections. You can now read it in full below.
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Liberal Democrat Newswire #34
Welcome to the 34th edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire, which this time previews the May local elections.
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Thanks for reading,
In this newsletter:
Lib Dems: up versus the Tories, down versus Labour
Nearly all the seats being contested this May were last fought in 2009, and despite the large fall in the Liberal Democrat poll ratings since 2009, the party has hopes in many of the seats up for grabs as the Conservative vote has fallen even further in the polls.
Comparing the polling figures in March 2013 with March 2009 (from the pollsters who were polling on both occasions and taking their last poll in the month) gives:
2009 average: Con 42% / Lab 31% / Lib Dem 17%
That is a swing of 7% from Lib Dem to Labour, but also a swing of 4% from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats.
Here are the full figures:
2009 now looks a good year
The picture from the national opinion polls mirrors that from council by-elections and also last May's local elections.
Back last May, the Liberal Democrats lost seats overall, but against the Tories made a tiny net gain. Similarly, in council by-elections since then the Liberal Democrats have scored many good results against the Conservatives whilst fights against Labour have usually gone far less well. In council by-elections, the balance of seats up for contest has been such that the overall result has been the party consistently making a net gain seats over recent months.
However, before any Liberal Democrat therefore gets too optimistic for the party's prospects in May, it should be remembered that the party had a relatively strong performance back in 2009.
Although it did not feel like it at the time, now seen with the advantage of hindsight the figures look relatively good. The party lost a net 48 seats overall (factoring in boundary changes), a modest lost compared to the years since. Moreover, the party's notional share of the vote in 2009 – 25% on the Thrasher & Rallings figures and 28% on the BBC figures – was only last exceeded back in 2005 (on the Thrasher & Rallings series) or 2004 (on the BBC series). In retrospect, 2009 was the last year before the Lib Dem local government performance dropped back markedly.
The proportion of seats up for election that the party is fighting has fallen from 90% of seats in 2009 to 75% of seats this time round. (That 75% is however higher than the percentages in 2011 and 2012, with the figure being under 60% in both those years.)
The Tories meanwhile have slipped from fighting just under 100% of the seats in 2009 to 95% this time, with Labour up from 86% to 92% and UKIP sharply up from 25% to 73%. The Greens have edged up slightly from 34% to 37% but the BNP have slumped from 19% to 4%. (All figures are subject to a small margin of error as there are no official national candidate totals per party.)
BBC vote share figures for the Lib Dems
Thrasher & Rallings vote share figures for the Lib Dems
Places to watch: Somerset and Hampshire
By now it has become a well worn, if justified, claim: Liberal Democrat commentators saying that the local election results are rather better for the party when you look at the areas which really matter for the party when it comes to a Westminster general election. It's true that results in the seats of Lib Dem MPs have generally been much better than elsewhere – and this difference helps explains the oft-commented on lack of panic in the ranks of Lib Dem MPs compared to how easily Labour and Tory MPs have been rattled at various times in this Parliament.
For this May, there are two areas in particular to look at to see how well this caveat is working. First, Somerset with its dense collection of Liberal Democrat held Parliamentary seats, a county council contest that is Conservative versus Lib Dem and a 5% Con-Lib Dem swing needed for the Liberal Democrats to take control of the council. Look carefully at where campaign visits are taking place and which candidates are being featured by the party nationally, and it is clear that Somerset is one of the Lib Dem top priorities.
Second, Hampshire. It too has Lib Dem seats, including the recently held Eastleigh, though is much less of a Lib Dem Parliamentary stronghold than Somerset. However, it has the sort of Lib Dem versus Conservative territory where the party also needs to prosper if it is not to be reduced to a scattered set of MP held seats with electoral wasteland elsewhere. With highly skilled campaigners in non-Lib Dem MP seats such as Peter Chegwyn and Martin Tod in Hampshire, not to mention a Conservative-run county council with controversial new and expensive council offices, the results in Hampshire will be a good guide to whether the party can prosper against the Tories outside of its Parliamentary strongholds.
(Also worth a look for Lib Dem-Conservative battles is Cornwall, the location too of many key Lib Dem versus Conservative Parliamentary contests but where the party is much less likely than in Somerset to get close to control of the council.)
Elsewhere in battles against Labour the widespread expectation in the party is that results will be tough once again. Lib Dem campaigners facing Labour who I've spoken to are hopeful that the results in their areas will be better than last year or the year before. However, as the seats up for elections are nearly all from 2009, it will be possible for the party to be up on 2011 or 2012 yet not up enough to avoid losing seats compared to 2009.
Therefore, as the analysis of the results comes in after polling day, watch out for how vote shares have changed in Lib Dem versus Labour areas between this year's elections and those in 2011 and 2012. Will the Lib Dem vote share be recovering from those lows, even if not by enough to get back to 2009 levels?
What the Lib Dems believe
I've just produced a new infographic, this time looking at what the Liberal Democrats believe and why.
It traces the party's historical roots, looking as some of the key contributors to its thought and covers the current major debates.
What's up for election in May