The LibDems are screwed

07 May 2011
The elections (and referendum) just passed were never going to be an easy time for the Liberal Democrats, but I do wonder what they expected when they say things were expected to be worse. OK, their English council losses could be explained as losing a few seats in councils which control was already hanging in the balance, but their Scottish result convinces me they are finished. It was not a wipe-out, but their underlying support has been so decimated they will not likely recover.

What about Bristol?

The Bristol LibDems got off lightly, as a lot of the seats that were up for grabs (Bristol City Council elects by thirds) were fairly safe ones where the party in second place was not Labour, and in most cases was the Conservatives. St.George West & Lawrance Hill were easy pickings as they were two-seat marginals in which the other seat was already Labour, and the Greens gaining Ashley is not too surprising as that is where the anti-capitalists riots were. I suspect the Greens targeted Ashley as they nearly got it in 2005, and it is notable that in the neighbouring Cotham & Cabot wards they lost support.

Bristol doesn't have any elections next year, but the 2013 ones will be a bloodbath.The seats up for grabs in 2013 are ones that were last contested in 2009, which was a particularly bad year for Labour. Some of the 2009 LibDem holds were close calls, whereas the 2009 LibDem gains are ones I would expect Labour to win back quite easily.

Conservatives got off lightly

Considering that all the cuts are coalition policy, the results are very much towards the dream end of the spectrum as far as the Conservatives are concerned. I suspect the tactics of No2AV helped focus anger on the LibDems, as Conservatives made nett gains. However the LibDems had the misfortune that two of their briefs (universities & energy) dropped major issues into their laps pretty much immediately, whereas other stuff such as Iain Duncan Smith's benefit reforms are very much still in the pipe-line.

Tuition fees

The pledge on tuition fees was all-round stupidity by the LibDems. Those with their heads screwed on knew it was unaffordable, but as soon as someone tried to prevent the party making everyone-to-everything pledges all them MPs go off and sign personal pledges. The irony of this all is that it did not help them: They lost 8 seats overall, including one university seat, and of the gains even Brent Central probably was not clinched by the issue. For a party trying to present itself as different & honest they failed at this hurdle in the most spectacular way possible. To make matters worse, even though the coalition agreement permitted LibDem MPs to abstain, few actually did.

The Scottish result

There was not much change in the vote shares obtained by Labour and the Conservatives, but because of the way numbers fall when allocating seats (both FPTP and d'Hondt are biased towards larger parties), both lost a significant number of seats. Whereas pretty much anyone still voting Conservative in Scotland is a die-hard, the London Con-LibDem coalition is something that Scottish liberals find hard to stomach. I suspect the SNP played to this audience. My best guess is that Scottish liberals consider liberalism to be dead & buried south of the border, and with the current Con-LibDem coalition they see the best hope for liberalism to be independence. With the LibDem vote almost unanimously going to the SNP it is clear that at the very least independence is no longer viewed as a threat.

The problem the LibDems had is that their support in some Scottish regions is now at the level of statistical noise, and even their support in areas that returned liberal MPs in the 1950s has been compromised. To make matters worse many of their seats were constituency ones which are very hard to win back, and with only 5 MSP left they simply do not have the numbers to show any influence to their name. In the Lothian region party vote, they were beaten by an independent.

And finally, the referendum

With a No result, all that is left of Nick Clegg's electoral reform bill is a blatant gerrymander. Electoral reform is now off the agenda for the next 20-30 years which adds to the list of LibDem policies that have been blown out of the water. For the LibDems to survive they need at least two big-ticket things they can point at as clearly LibDem driven against Conservative wishes, and currently they are nowhere near getting any.