Having done my piece about how the general election could yet go badly wrong for the Conservatives (thanks for the lovely feedback), and mindful of what I’ve said before about how good punditry avoids just thinking about that which you would like to happen, I thought I’d work round the other parties.
So here is the version of how the general election could go wrong for Labour:
Turning next to the Liberal Democrats, many of the possible reasons to be optimistic or pessimistic about the party’s chances were covered in the last Liberal Democrat Newswire (sign up here).
The gist of the possible reasons to be negative about the Liberal Democrat prospects in the general election were:
- The Lib Dems are only up a bit in the polls, whilst the Conservatives are up a lot. Going backwards against the Conservatives would be a major problem because not only are there many more seats the Lib Dems might hope to win off the Conservatives than off Labour, but also the Conservatives are second in many Lib Dem held seats.
- The wave of new members, money and helpers may result in the party’s targeting efforts being diluted (keen new people working their own patch in a fit of enthusiasm and party staffers directing funding too broadly) rather than strengthened (concentrating on winning in a limited number of genuinely winnable places).
This failure of targeting is what happened in 2010 in the wake of Cleggmania. Both the party’s data and subsequent external research showed a big weakening in the willingness of party activists to go and campaign elsewhere. The party too spread its spending rather broadly.
This sort of problem has the potential to be even more dangerous in 2017 given Theresa May’s Ukip bonus. The rapid decline of Ukip in the polls has been mostly to the benefit of the Conservatives. As Matthew Goodwin and David Cutts have pointed out:
Data from the British Election Study also reveals that UKIP defections to the Conservatives are highest in seats where it faces a strong challenge from the Liberal Democrats … it is worth noting that we find little evidence that Conservative Remainers are switching from the Conservatives over to the Liberal Democrats.
That’s why effective targeting will be so important for the Liberal Democrats. Gaining votes but losing seats wasn’t a great outcome in 2010. It would be even worse in 2017 when the party has that many fewer seats to begin with.