Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Liberal Democrats next election prediction: zero seats

The Electoral Calculus website is a sort of guilty secret among politicos. It takes current opinion polling and overlays it on various parliamentary constituencies to determine a possible General Election result. The site is excellent in its layout and makes it easy to drill down to an individual constituency. Its current prediction is for Labour on 338, Conservatives on 271 and the Liberal Democrats on zero, nothing, nada, sod all. Of course this is an artefact of a uniform swing model, and the Electoral Calculus site has a detailed explanation of how it has come about. However, that cannot disguise the underlying fact that Liberal Democrat support has halved since the 2005 election. Even given more variable swings by constituency in a forthcoming election, it seems likely that a lot of the bright young things that came into parliament under the Liberal Democrat banner in 2005 will be going straight out again at the earliest opportunity. The reasons for the collapse in support are not hard to discern, with the Iraq War losing its electoral potency as an issue and the stuttering end of anti-Tory tactical voting. There was also Ming, whose failures as a leader led to a pretty brutal assassination.

Now the Liberal Democrat theory seems to be that all they have to do is elect a photogenic leader and their dire position will reverse itself. My observation is that nothing in politics is that simple, and that bouffant hair does not substitute for clarity of political vision and policy. This is a bit of a challenge for the Liberal Democrats as everyone knows that they won't be forming the next government and that their stated position is to prop up Labour given half the chance. So, if you want the current lot out, vote Conservative. Why do anything different? Well, the answer to that will come if the new Liberal Democrat leader can change the dynamic, especially in his party's relationship to the Conservatives and with one eye on what they would do in a hung parliament. This is not a trivial thing and would require a wholesale change of attitude, but, as the Electoral Calculus prediction shows, the alternative might be quite grisly. Ask the Liberal Democrats here in Basildon what happens when you prop up an unpopular Labour administration. They used to be the second largest party after Labour. Now they have three Councillors left; not quite zero, but getting there.

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