Progress is a New Labour pressure group. On their website, Mark Rusling argues that there are strong signs that the Lib Dems are “waving, not drowning”. He bases this on evidence from local government, particularly from Waltham Forest Council:
…I have a gnawing worry that, while the Liberals aren’t thriving, neither are they drowning. They might prove more tenacious than many people expect.
The evidence from local by-elections backs this up. On the day that most politicos were talking about the police and crime commissioner ballots, as well as three Westminster elections, a host of local contests registered five gains for the Lib Dems and no losses. Taking seats off the Tories and Labour, this pattern has been repeated throughout England recently. Local Lib Dems are not always being blamed for the sins of their Westminster masters.
Waltham Forest gives an example of how the Lib Dems will approach the next couple of years. For two terms until 2010, the council was hung, with 24 Labour and 21 Liberal councillors. They were a significant local political force, having grown from nothing over 20 years to a position in which they believed that, in 2010, they would take control of the council and run us close in the parliamentary seats of Walthamstow and Leyton and Wanstead. That did not happen – 2010 brought hefty parliamentary majorities and 36 Labour councillors. The Liberals were left with just six.
For much of the previous two-and-a-half years, the local Lib Dems appeared shell-shocked and without any direction at all. Yet, in the last six months, something has changed. Things are still pretty desperate for them, but they no longer appear quite as resigned to their own demise. They have found some direction and, while the content of that direction is not surprising, the sheer chutzpah of it may be.
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* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist in Newbury and West Berkshire. He is part of the Liberal Democrat Voice team and blogs at Liberal Burblings.