Saturday, May 07, 2005

Where Next For the Lib Dems?

Nick Barlow has an interesting post on his blog detailing all the seats in which the Lib Dems are in second place. Nick is naturally going to be more positive about the results than I will, because he is staunchly yellow in hue. I think a more detailed analysis of the seats may actually suggest that the result will cause future problems for the party until they have decided what sort of party they are. That is, whilst they are mostly a "protest party" they will not go much higher in terms of their seat tally. In many ways, the increase in national vote share is a bit of a Pyrrhic victory, because it doesn't reflect where the gains were won.

Although I don't know for certain, my suspicion would certainly be that many of the close seats in the Labour-held constituencies have had some reasonably big swings this time (those of the 'Withington effect', only without success) on the basis of Iraq, and that those gains aren't sustainable without actually having a sitting MP to win support. Oxford East, for example, would fall into this category. Vote-wise, it looks ultra-marginal; realistically, 2005 was the best shot the Liberals will ever have. If, as seems likely, the Labour party begin to move away from "New" Labour somewhat, and the Brownite vision of Labour is more to the left, then I would imagine most of these seats will swing back towards the reds.

Looking at the Conservative "targets", too, suggests big difficulties for the Lib Dems. If the national swing this time was replicated, then only 15 of these seats would be in play. Perhaps more worrying, outside of the South-West, Con-LD seats tended to swing towards the Conservatives, at least in the South - no doubt a result of Kennedy's decision to take the Lib Dems to the left. Additionally, many of these 15 were the Conservative gains, or target seats in which the Conservatives actually increased their majority.

I maintain the numbers aren't very good for the Liberal Democrats, and pose the central question of what the party is actually for. Is it just some kind of protest/pressure group? Is it a universalist party of the left (in which case expect to see its Parliamentary influence decrease)? Or is it a party of the centre that can make serious hits at the Tories? Only in the latter case can I see the Lib Dems actually becoming a potential party of government.