Local by-elections, the national picture: Lib Dems at 12%

The Voice reported late on Thursday night the excellent performance of the Lib Dems in Winchester, recording a strong council by-election hold in the improbably-named Oliver’s Battery and Badger Farm.

The Independent, noting the party’s victory, however also recorded the national projections based on January’s eight local by-elections, which show the state of the parties as:

    Lab 39.4%, C 38.6%, Lib Dem 12.1%.

The report added:

… six of the contests were in areas where Lib Dems are traditionally the main challengers to Tories. In most of these the Conservative vote held up. This contrasted starkly with a huge swing to Labour in the only seat it was defending. In the one remaining result, at Camborne in Cornwall, the party also managed a big recovery in a ward where it traditionally performed strongly but had fallen back in recent elections.

This confirms suggestions of a split between the two halves of Britain with the better-off possibly being concerned with the deficit and the poorer areas with cuts.

Though 12% is well above YouGov’s current polling projections (8% again in today’s daily tracker), it shows what a mountain the party will have to climb in this May’s elections for the Scottish parliament, Welsh assemby and English council elections.

There is at least some comfort for the wannabe-elected and activists: the old message that where the party works, it wins (or at least maintains its vote), can be true — even in a Coalition climate.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • So it actually looks like 12% is an outlier given the YouGov 8%, and the average of all January polls which was at 9.6% (actually less as that doesn’t include the 8% figure)?

    Looks more like you are having to run very hard to maintain the status quo; elsewhere, you’re toast!

  • Colin Green 30th Jan '11 - 6:50pm

    what does 12.1% actually mean? Uniformly spread it is not enough, but our council seats are not uniformly spread. Given that this 12.1% average has seen the Lib Dems stay about the same in terms of numbers of seats (they are up 2 since May) does it mean they coming months will continue to show about the same numbers of gains and losses?

  • paul barker 30th Jan '11 - 6:58pm

    It makes no sense to lump opinion polls together ( if youre going to, Political Bettings PAPA average works much better than UKPRs which is swamped by the YouGov daily polls for the Sun. PAPA only allows each polling firm one poll each ) they use completely different models.
    Polls divide broadly into 2 groups, Phone & Internet. There is no real doubt which is better, in the competition to predict the vote shares in the GE, the top 3 were phone polls, the bottom 3 all Internet. The great advantage of Internet Polls is that they are cheap.
    Phone Polls have the Libdems around 13 or 14%, about 4% down on Jan 2006. Yes, weve taken a real hit, no, our support hasnt collapsed.

  • Birkdale FOCUS Blog has an up-to-date analysis of the 190 principal council by-elections which have taken place since the Coalition Government was formed: http://birkdalefocus.blogspot.com/2011/01/lib-dem-still-narrowly-ahead-in-council.html

    In 190 by-elections over 9 months, Lib Dems are net one seat up (24 successful defences; 12 gains; 11 losses). Labour are net 22 seats up; Conservatives are net 21 seats down and Others are net 2 seats down.

    Paul Barker’s last point is spot on.

  • Colin Green 30th Jan '11 - 8:08pm

    Thanks for the link Simon. I’m willing to think that things will carry on the same for the next few months of by-elections, but what is the likely outcome of the “Big Elections” in May. Con down, Lab up, Lib Dem about the same?

  • Surely not case ‘phone polls always better – YouGov’s record is at least as good as any of the phone polling companies.

  • Poppie's mum 31st Jan '11 - 8:59am

    The reason is probably because soft Tories are now saying they will vote Lib Dem.

    None of my centre/left of centre friends say they will vote Lib Dem again, and I don’t think they are unusual.

    One of the many reasons is they wouldn’t trust the Lib Dem leadership not to side with the Tories again, even if Labour got the most seats at an election.

  • @ Poppie’s Mum

    Nick Clegg made it clear all the way through that he would seek to form a government with the party that got the most support at the general election. He kept with that pledge. Since Labour were kicked out with 29% of the vote and looked like losing heavily all the way through the campaign (never having risen above 32% in the BBC’s poll of polls, for instance), why did your friends assume, against all the evidence, that the Lib Dems HAD to ally themselves with the losing side?

    On the other hand, making the same commitment next time could mean the Liberal Democrats would support the Labour party if they fail to win an overall majority.

    I think at a very basic level, the voters still don’t “get” the idea of what coalition rather than one party government means.

    By the way, the rolling average on UK Polling Report has now recovered slightly to 12%. While this is not good, I think under the circumstances it is not quite as disastrous as it might be. This is probably down to the fact that for the first time in ten months the press haven’t been running quite as many vicious attacks on the party and its leadership as they have been. Although the Telegraph, with this weekend’s attack on Nick Clegg, seems determined to rectify that oversight.

  • Depressed Ex Lib Dem 31st Jan '11 - 12:27pm

    Nick Clegg made it clear all the way through that he would seek to form a government with the party that got the most support at the general election.

    He certainly didn’t say that.

    What he said was the the party with the strongest mandate (whatever that meant) would have the right to try to form a government first. He didn’t commit himself automatically to supporting that government, and he certainly didn’t say he would enter a formal coalition. On the contrary, there was a widespread expectation that the party would seek to negotiate a “supply and confidence” deal instead.

  • “I think at a very basic level, the voters still don’t “get” the idea of what coalition rather than one party government means”

    I don’t think the Lib Dems ‘get’ the idea of the level betrayal many left/left of centre voters feel, not because of the Party entering the Coalition but because of how the Party has acted since in it’s support for ideological polices of the Tories, I myself supported the formation of the Coalition but I certainly do not now support it.

  • Christine Headley 31st Jan '11 - 9:09pm

    I’ve been canvassing several hours a day every day but two since 4 January. (Watch out for the result of Thursday’s by-election….) Each day, one household has given me a hard time over tuition fees and other shortcomings of the Coalition, but only once has the person told me that the LibDems shouldn’t have formed a coalition with the Conservatives at all. When told that my party has become a clone of the Tories, I have pointed out that I am as unhappy as anyone with some of the things the coalition has done, and that party members are also critical of the leadership.

    The by-election is in a county division; I won the ward that makes up half of it nearly four years ago (I’ll be back on the doorsteps in April!) by five votes after 18 months work. The core LibDem vote here is pretty small, but many people are willing to give us credit if we are seen to be working. We are the opposition on the district and county councils, and happy to make common cause with Labour and the Greens.

    It can only be classed as anecdotal, but I doubt many other people have canvassed nearly a thousand electors since Christmas.

  • @ Oranjepan
    “I think the so-called left/left of centre voters you refer to are all too quick to apologise for the indiscretions of their own tribal leaders”
    The centre left voters I was referring to are, like me, Lib Dem supporters if it could be said that I have have a ‘Leader’ it would of been Clegg but there is no way I would become apologist for him. as for the limited achievements of the party in the Coalition I can only say I’m pleased, as you have said “raising hundreds of thousands of people out of tax altogether” is something to be proud of but anything that the Party has achieved/will achieve must be measured against other Coalition polices, the 10% cut in HB after one year of unemployment thus risking homelessness and the reforms to welfare that are going to hit the disabled for instance. these things the Party would not of supported whilst in opposition, in fact I would go as far to say most Liberals would of been outraged but it now seems that is the price for our limited influence and many seem willing to pay it, but for me the cost to the most vulnerable in society is too high

  • coldcomfort 1st Feb '11 - 8:00pm

    What I don’t understand is how disappointed Lib Dem supporters can possibly see any greater hope for what they believe in from the Labour Party. In 13yrs in office Labour presided over a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich; the increasing liberation of the financial sector to destroy the lives of millions; participation in war on the basis of known lies; and huge destruction of the civil liberties that our forbears fought and died for along with much else that was alien to what the party allegedly stood for. Join the Greens if you must but for God sake don’t support Labour.

  • @Oranjepan
    Whilst I can agree with much you have written I still have great sense of foreboding over welfare changes and the effect of these on people least able to cope, I cannot for the life of me see how making the already stringent WCA that Labour introduced more stringent help the public finances unless its just an exercise in reducing benefits, the same goes for the10% cut in HB, I’m not saying that welfare does not need reform, it does desperately, but I think its too much of the stick and not enough carrot., As you have probably guessed I have an personal interest in this as I myself am partially disabled after an accident but also I help run a local charity that provides services to the disabled as well as to the wider community I can tell you the fear that these changes are causing is palpable, that extra funding for mental health will be very much needed I can tell you.

    “What I don’t understand is how disappointed Lib Dem supporters can possibly see any greater hope for what they believe in from the Labour Party”

    No neither do I, I still would describe myself as a Liberal it’s just that I don’t shout about it anymore, and just because I criticise the Coalition does not automatically mean I’ve crossed to the dark side.

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