Opinion: The perils of candidateitis

In the last few days the tectonic plates of British politics appear to have shifted. The slow growth of the Liberal Democrats over nearly half a century is finally exerting massive pressure on the old duopoly. A sprinkling of Nick Clegg’s fairy dust may just have been enough to trigger a political earthquake.

The arguments are well known. Britain has one of the largest Liberal votes in Europe but our electoral system ensures one of the lowest Liberal representations. It actively preserves the old duopoly. But the unfairness goes much further. If the current opinion polls are anywhere near correct the result of this election will starkly reveal the inherent corruption of the current system. Labour could come third yet have the most seats.

Candidateitis – that strange disease where candidates with no chance of victory becomes convinced that they are on the brink of an amazing success – is breaking out up and down the country.

But let’s stay focused. The reform of British politics is not a one election job. A few moments playing with the BBC’s seat calculator toy shows the scale of the problem. 30% of the vote gives the Labour 315 seats, Tories 206 seats and the Lib Dems a paltry 100. OK – a health warning about the assumptions of a national swing and the effects of local campaigning but the point is made – Labour win 50% more seats as the Tories and over 3 times as many as the Lib Dems for the same number of votes. With the old duopoly neck and neck Lib Dems would still need an eye-watering 40% of the popular vote to win a parliamentary majority. Even Nick’s supply of fairy dust is unlikely to deliver that.

So we play the long game. Focus on maximising our percentage of the national vote, target those seats we can realistically win and use the political mandate that provides to reform the system and demonstrate the capability of our team.

Between this election and the next we could be in uncharted territory. A hung parliament. Potential internecine warfare in both Labour and Conservative Parties – Labour for losing the election and the Tories for failing to win it. The economy awful.

Under these circumstances Lib Dems must provide stability and good sense – and a radical reforming zeal.

May we live in interesting times.

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This entry was posted in General Election and Op-eds.


  • I think it’s important that we keep the momentum. This poll has shown good trend since even before the first tv debate.

  • paul barker 21st Apr '10 - 3:17pm

    First, I dont think we can rule out getting 38%, enough to be the largest Party. Second, if we get the largest vote then we cant accept anything less than a Govt led by us, with Clegg as PM. Anything else would be a betrayal of Democracy & would destroy the movement that is building behind us.

  • Andrew Suffield 21st Apr '10 - 3:41pm

    we cant accept anything less than a Govt led by us, with Clegg as PM

    You realise that without the largest number of seats, or a significant backbench rebellion from Labour and the Tories, there’s not going to be a way to make that happen?

    Clegg might well refuse any form of coalition arrangement on that basis. But that’s about all.

  • David Allen 21st Apr '10 - 3:44pm

    Thinking we can now win when we start from a bad third place is candidatitis. Thinking we can now win our targets is not!

  • paul barker 21st Apr '10 - 4:13pm

    Andrew, when you say “thats all” its enough. We have Labour over a barrel, they are bankrupt & cant afford a 2nd Election. Really, Labour have 2 choices, deal with us or put the Tories into office. Lets have a bit more confidence in our cause & in our strength.

  • Martin Land 21st Apr '10 - 4:43pm

    I’ll keep my opinion to myself. Suffice to say I’ve learnt not to second guess the electorate, who this time are going to through some real surprises at the bubblies.

  • Steve Comer 22nd Apr '10 - 1:30am

    I mostly agree with Tony, but we alos need top recognise that the “Manchester Withington effect” (or you could call it the ‘Solihull effect’) could be a factor in this election. By this I mean that some seats that need a big shhift in votes might fall to us when some which are more marginal might not. For months bookmakers have had us as favourites to win Burnley, but you won’t see it featured on the battlegound charts on the BBC. We must be wary of candidateitis, and it usually breaks out when the postal votes are delivered, BUT we must do all we can to ensure effort goes into ALL our target seats.

    In the local elections in Bristol last year was that we won two seats with big swings from Labour, but failed to pick up seats in two wards with split Labour/Lib Dem representation. Labour campaigned hard to defend these, and by tyhe time they realised we were attacking the other two it was too late for them.

    With their obsession with unifrom national swing (which hasn’t really happened since 1970) , the media are playing down the influence of local factors, such has most seats on the Council, or whether the local MP was caught by the expenses scandal.

  • Candidatitus is where the General Election contituency campaign orders your key activists to sit in a shed stuffing envelopes instead of knocking on doors.

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