My 5 minutes defending Lib Dem honour against Bus Pass Elvis

“We’re interviewing Bus Pass Elvis – the guy who beat the Lib Dems in a council by-election last week – and wondered if you’d be free to come on and talk about whether it means the writing’s on the wall.” That was the enticing invitation from the BBC’s Daily Politics show – how could I refuse? You can see how I got on below.

It was a brief segment, so there were two points I didn’t get to make which I think are important and relevant.

First, what Bus Pass Elvis’s defeat of the Lib Dems in North Clifton ward in Nottingham shows is the extent to which the party’s support has been hit in non-target areas. The party didn’t contest the ward at all in 2011 but when it did in 2007 it attracted 7% of the vote. Seven years on, the Lib Dems got 2%.

This points to a wider issue for the party. In 2010, the Lib Dems came first or second in 299 seats across the country – which means getting on for half the country had either a Lib Dem MP or the Lib Dems were the main challenger. That number is likely to shrink drastically in 2015. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Lib Dems will be wiped out (my own guesstimate remains that the party will retain c.40 seats) but it will limit our capacity to grow and to spring back at the 2020 election.

The second point is this. This week’s by-election results – you can read about them here – were far more positive for the Lib Dems: we took two seats from the Tories, including in Ludlow where Andy Boddington (formerly of this parish) won with a swing of 11%.

But it’s the Canterbury result which is, perhaps, of wider significance. Here the Lib Dems defeated the Tories on a 4% swing, but if you look at the results breakdown the Lib Dem share of the vote declined slightly (from 41% to 37%). However, the Tory vote declined more sharply (from 43% to 32%), with Ukip finishing in third place (on 18%). How many Lib Dem held and target seats, in particular in the west and south-west of England, could see similar results in 2015?

Anyway, here’s my 5 minutes of glory with Lord Biro aka Bus Pass Elvis aka David Bishop:

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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6 Comments

  • But it’s the Canterbury result which is, perhaps, of wider significance. Here the Lib Dems defeated the Tories on a 4% swing, but if you look at the results breakdown the Lib Dem share of the vote declined slightly (from 41% to 37%). However, the Tory vote declined more sharply (from 43% to 32%), with Ukip finishing in third place (on 18%). How many Lib Dem held and target seats, in particular in the west and south-west of England, could see similar results in 2015?

    What you don’t mention is that those comparisons are with the last contest in that ward in 2011. By that time, the Lib Dems’ national popularity had already dropped precipitously – and it has stayed pretty constant ever since then. Trying to project changes in the next general election on the basis of changes since 2011 is completely invalid.

    The last pre-coalition contest in that ward was in 2007. The changes in the share of the vote since then were:
    Lib Dem: -21.6%
    Con: -5.6%
    UKIP: (+18.1%)
    Lab: +4.6%
    Green: (+4.4%)

    That would translate to an 8% swing from the Lib Dems to the Tories, so you’d better hope that nothing similar does happen in the seats the Lib Dems are defending against the Tories in 2015!

  • Another Lib Dem by-election victory caused by Tory voters putting a mid-term protest cross in the box for UKIP.

  • Chris
    You should not hold your hopes up too much about 2015. In Barham we had the full monty from Labour and UKIP plus Tory lived in Ward..good result methinks

  • paul barker 15th Mar '14 - 2:57pm

    The consensus of Academic opinion is that the best measure of a Party,s prospects is change in vote share, where the Party stood both times. On that basis the Libdem vote in Local Byelections over the last 3 weeks rose by 1% while the Labour vote fell by 6%. Given the rise of UKIP & TUSC even to stand still in vote share is impressive. Clearly we have passed our low point & Labour have passed their peak.

  • Tony Dawson 15th Mar '14 - 5:07pm

    @paul barker :

    “The consensus of Academic opinion is that the best measure of a Party,s prospects is change in vote share, where the Party stood both times.”

    Almost, true. Clearly, if there is a range of performances on a given day, you cannot totally discount those wards where Party A has decided not to fight this time. These are likely to be disproportionately places where that Party is falling to bits since the last election. While you should not write the performance in those wards down to zero, you certainly need to take them into account when attempting to determine any trends on an aggregate basis.

  • David White 16th Mar '14 - 1:47pm

    WOW!! That Elvis Bus Pass guy has a most entertaining personality, he makes some pity comments and he looks so ‘cool’ – and calm. Were I The Man with a Pint and a Fag, dear Nige, I’d try to recruit Elvis.

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