The #LibDemFightback: things to look for on May 5th

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I’ve never been one for negativity.  I’m all for realism, however stark – provided that one is permitted to also consider how to change one’s circumstances if the current ones are dire.  This is one of the many reasons why the Lib Dems attracted me as a party – evidence-based policy, and a ‘well, let’s fix it’ attitude to tackling problems, offering solutions and alternatives instead of simply complaining.

The membership surge after last May’s elections, and the ensuing #LibDemFightback have been extremely heartening.  Outside the comfort zones of the Liberal Democrat community, the evidence for that fightback is there, but the new reality we face is that it is much harder to make ourselves heard than it was before last May.

So, I thought I’d try some evidence-gathering myself from council by-elections; you can see what I found here.

All this suggests two things:

One, our hard work is paying off, sometimes handsomely – we should pile on the pressure and keep it up.  We can be proud of the fact that we are the only national party netting overall positive swings whilst standing in a large number of seats – adding subsequent results to the Britain Elects calculation on February the 19th shows an average swing of +6.4%, compared to losses for the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP.

Two, we should be realistic about what we can achieve on May 5th.  The joy of by-elections is that local parties can concentrate all of their firepower on that Super Star Destroyer one ward, often with the help of outside activists.  May 5th will be a different beast.  Many local parties have taken Tim’s instruction to “pick a ward and win it” to heart, concentrating on one or two target wards – and to be honest, that is all that many are capable of doing for now.  So, on May 5th, we should expect 4-8% vote shares (or worse) to be the order of the day in most wards – the polling suggests the same in the devolved assemblies.  That is our vote floor, and we are only just picking ourselves off it.

So where does this leave the #LibDemFightback?

Well, it should be clear by now that it’s got to be a long-term fightback – and for our council seats, it’s against a trend that started before Nick Clegg became leader.  Between now and May 5th, go and help with delivery, canvassing or phone-banking, particularly if you live in an area which doesn’t have elections this time around!

On May 5th, my advice would be to look for those one or two wards in each local party area where that party has focused its efforts.  The sign of the #LibDemFightback will be if our gains begin to exceed our losses (as they have in by-elections).  But don’t only look for gained seats – look for increases in vote share too.  The fightback is a long-term project, and every swing in our favour this May will form the basis for that fightback’s continuation in the years to come.  The maths of the by-elections we’ve had since last May support this.

* John Grout is a Lib Dem activist and lives in Reading.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • paul barker 28th Mar '16 - 3:09pm

    This year is going to be the hardest to call that I have ever seen.
    If the National polls are telling the whole story then we will see another year of bad losses.
    If we look at recent local byelections as a whole then we can expect gains & losses to balance out, roughly.
    If those byelections where we last fought in May 2015 are an accurate guide then we could make small net gains.
    Personally I have no idea whats happening.
    PS if anyone who knows me wonders why I have dissapeared, the reasons are purely personal.

  • I agree, Paul. It’s very hard to tell; it’s likely we’ll see big local and regional differences, I think. Hope things are well with you.

  • Gordon Anders 28th Mar '16 - 4:09pm
  • Tony Dawson 28th Mar '16 - 4:36pm

    “every swing in our favour this May will form the basis for that fightback’s continuation in the years to come. ”

    This is incorrect.

    Small swings towards us which do not push us through the 20 per cent barrier and which are not followed up by serious activity come and go and have no relevance at all to our fortunes – as indeed nether have falls when our polling is below about 15 per cent. It makes little difference to a serious campaign, when it starts, whether the starting point is 2 per cent or 12 per cent.

    Aggregating the results in seats where we are doing well with those which have little or no activity is more like grouping together apples and parrots than apples and oranges. It has no relevance to anything at all in the real electoral world.

  • Tony Dawson 28th Mar ’16 – 4:36pm

    “Small swings towards us which do not push us through the 20 per cent barrier and which are not followed up by serious activity come and go and have no relevance at all to our fortunes – as indeed nether have falls when our polling is below about 15 per cent.”

    Yes – until the Party is polling at least in the high teens as the result of a consistent strategy – its future will continue to look bleak.

  • Simon Banks 29th Mar '16 - 3:31pm

    National polls are often poor indicators of local results for us. Yes, we can expect the results to be more mixed than the excellent run of by-elections, but the by-elections suggest we’re again mostly winning where we work, which was often not true at all during the coalition.

    However, I don’t entirely agree with Tony Dawson – or probably we’re talking about slightly different things. While in a particular ward, it makes little difference whether we start from 4% or 10%, as an indicator such differences are significant. A marked aspect of local by-election results has been that even where we were clearly not in contention, and could have expected to be squeezed, we’ve nearly always upped our percentage. As an indicator, that’s significant. We’re experiencing a modest revival which hasn’t shown yet in national polls.

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