How Will the Liberal Democrats Do on May 3rd?
Iâ€™m reluctant to comment on this subject, as there are a couple of posters to this site who consider that I display my inherent Conservative bias by refusing to predict anything other than stunning success for the Liberal Democrats in local elections. Nevertheless, it is only right that I do so, given that I have posted about Labour and the Conservatives in the past two weeks.
The Liberal Democratsâ€™ performance in opinion polls is, without doubt, disappointing from their point of view. Only one of this monthâ€™s tranche of opinion polls, Communicate Research, has placed them on as much as 20% of the vote. Personally, I had expected Ming Campbell to be much better regarded among the public than appears to be the case. Perhaps he is destined to be one of those effective second-in-commands, who prove unsuccessful when they reach the top position.
However, as Mark Senior and others have pointed out, the Liberal Democratsâ€™ record in local by-elections has been much better. Recent weeks have seen the Liberal Democrats pull off some remarkable results in Ashfield, Burnley, and Tewkesbury, and apparently holding their own in a number of other seats.
There are clearly a lot of people who tell pollsters they will vote Labour or Conservative nationally, but who vote Liberal Democrat locally.
When canvassing in Bushey, before the last election, it was clear that many people voted Liberal Democrat for the County Council, and Conservative at Parliamentary level. So I have no doubt at all that the Liberal Democratsâ€™ national equivalent vote share on May 3rd will be far higher than the 18% or so that pollsters currently give the party.
I would expect it to be at least 25%, similar to that of last year, and possibly higher still, if Labour perform really badly. The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that the Conservatives will probably win something close to 40% of the vote on May 3rd, and a lot of rural Liberal Democrat seats are vulnerable to a Conservative advance.
The Liberal Democrats do have a good chance of gaining from Labour though, and to a large extent, I would expect their gains and losses to cancel each other out. However, it does mean that the Liberal Democrats are unlikely to be making the headlines on the morning of May 4th.
Sadly too, for the Liberal Democrats, good local electoral performances often fail to translate into good performances at Parliamentary level.
There were four local by-elections last night.
Basingstoke and Deane BC- Rooksdown: Conservative, 156, Lib Dem 122, Labour 18. Conservative hold.
Buckinghamshire CC – Stoke Poges and Farnham Common: Conservative 875, Independent 283, Lib Dem 280, Labour 89. Conservative hold.
Powys CBC – St David Within: Independent 215, Independent 156, Lib Dem 143, Conservative 47. Independent hold.
Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC – Treorchy: Labour 1139, Plaid Cymru 849, Conservative 161. Labour hold. This is in fact a very good result for Labour, as Plaid hold the other two seats in the ward. One would have expected Labour to suffer from the news that Burberry are closing their factory here, but in fact they achieved a swing of 9% in their favour.
Sean Fear is a London Tory activist