Vince Cable says we could win 30 more seats in 2024

Writing in the Independent today, Vince Cable predicts: ”A realistic if optimistic outlook is that the Lib Dems could take 30 more Tory seats at the next general election.” Some may think that is ambitious but if we don’t have ambition we are never going to succeed.

He begins with Orpington, a by-election, on a massive 26 per cent swing in 1962. That was fifty years ago and the political quicksand has shifted since then. But it doesn’t mean that, buoyed by our successes in Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire, we can’t deliver 30 MPs.

The experience in North Shropshire was that people no longer talked about the coalition. Only the very left talks about that now. We need to stride forward. Build on the excitement and momentum that we have gained during 2021. Ensure that we can get more MPs elected in 2024.

Over to Vince Cable.

The first and obvious point is that even the most committed Liberal Democrats like me don’t expect to win the general election, which is due to be held by 2024. We did embrace that possibility in 2010 for a few days during the election campaign (“Cleggmania”) and for a few nanoseconds in 2019 after the European elections. But a more realistic if optimistic outlook is the prediction of “party strategists” that the Lib Dems could take 30 more Tory seats (and a few more from the SNP). Even a total haul of 25-30 seats at the next election could put the party in a position nearly as influential as in 2010.

Vince discusses some electoral calculus, for which please read the full article.

While tacit cooperation and tactical voting could make for bigger gains by Labour, the Lib Dems (and the Greens), boundary revisions and the recent moves to suppress voting – such as ID requirements – make really big shifts very difficult…

If a “hung parliament” looms, as it surely will, the electorate will be told by the Tories to expect “chaos”. Dull and stable will do very well instead: parties working together, not necessarily in coalition but with a shared agenda. It would include measures to reach net zero; fairer, more progressive tax; and a commitment to growth built around an industrial strategy.

The most compelling message, however, at the next election will be negative and dull: an end to incompetence and corruption.

Vince Cable suggests the real reason for Lord Frost’s resignation was “that he realised that renegotiating the Brexit agreement is impossible and he got out before humiliating capitulation forced him out.” He also adds: “A second issue is Scotland. Labour cannot make a breakthrough without retrieving Scottish seats from the SNP.”

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Friday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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61 Comments

  • Until Vince apologises for his comments on what the Uyghur people face I don’t really care what else he has to say.

  • Brad Barrows 22nd Dec '21 - 4:46pm

    I’m surprised by the lack of ambition from Vince – even if achieved, the Liberal Democrats would still end up the 4th party behind the SNP. By the way, the Liberal Democrats could easily win back East Dunbartonshire from the SNP, having lost it by just 149 votes in 2019, but I can’t see a second gain from the SNP as the next target seat has a majority of 23% and is held by the SNP’s Westminster Leader.

  • Tristan Ward 22nd Dec '21 - 5:29pm

    I do not remember much chaos in the coalition government. It was the last time the country had a competent and stable government. It was after 2015 that chaos broke out.

    We shod be prepared to run this message.

  • Alex Macfie 22nd Dec '21 - 5:42pm

    Brad Barrows: Bit surprised you hadn’t noticed that East Dunbartonshire was held by our leader at the time. If the SNP could take out our leader, why can’t we take out one of theirs?
    The East Dunbartonshire result in 2019GE shows that having the party leader as election candidate can work both ways, as the the leader tends to be distracted from local campaigning. One would expect the party to pour sufficient resources into the leader’s seat to shore the leader up, which is what we failed to do. See also Malcolm Bruce in 1992 (when as our Scottish leader he only just held onto his seat).

  • Brad Barrows 22nd Dec '21 - 6:38pm

    @Alex Macfie

    I think you need to bear in mind that when the SNP took East Dunbartonshire in 2019 they averaged 45% across the country compared to the Scottish Liberal Democrats averaging 9.5%. The latest opinion polls have the SNP at 48% and the Scottish Liberal Democrats at only 6%. So, the Scottish Liberal Democrats are in a worse position against the SNP than when the seat was lost, and unless things improve significantly the SNP is very likely to take Caithness,, Sutherland and Easter Ross (majority 204) and will be coming close to taking Orkney and Shetland. The fantastic result in North Shropshire May provide a real boost to the party in England but I don’t really expect much impact in Scotland where the major political divide is on the issue of Scotland’s constitutional future. The Council elections next year will give a good indication of how things are shaping up in Scotland.

  • I have to tell Andy Boddington that Eric Lubbock’s victory in the Orpington by-election wasn’t fifty years ago. It will be sixty years next 14 March. As a Young Liberal in West Yorkshire at the time I remember it very well – my MP Donald Wade had to sort out difficulties over the candidacy before the by-election. The result wasn’t just a flash in the pan but it was built on hard work, a solid advance in local government, and a great Agent in the late Pratap Chitnis.

    Eric was a great radical (and a great human being). Sadly, he died nearly six years ago. Orpington, 1962, increased the number of Liberal MPs to seven. We had a charismatic Leader then in Jo Grimond, and the number of MP’s increased to 9 in 1964, and to 12 in 1966 – so the Lib Dems are now up by one compared to those days.

    I’m pretty sure there were very few dormant constituencies in those days (I’m sure Michael Meadowcroft could confirm that), and we had if I remember over 400 Young Liberal and Union of Liberal Student) branches.

    As to any future by-elections now, I’d add Uxbridge & South Ruislip to the list. According to an interview with Matthew Parris today to it’s unlikely Johnson will still be around by then. No doubt Labour will be very keen to win Uxbridge and it will be interesting to see what the outcome will be. Personally, I think Sir Vince might just be right, and for me, I want a change of government

  • Peter Davies 22nd Dec '21 - 8:20pm

    The boundary changes might make holding existing seats difficult if we were digging in to avoid a disaster. Some like Tim’s will still be difficult but if we are looking to take fifty seats, they could be quite helpful. There will be more seats in the Tory Lib-Dem marginal areas and less of an incumbency boost for the Tories.

  • James Fowler 22nd Dec '21 - 10:31pm

    The Liberal Democrats (including predecessor) have not gained 30 seats in a GE since 1923. It would be wonderful if this happened, but I rate this outcome as wildly optimistic.

  • Vince’s assessment seems eminently reasonable considering so many of the 91 seats where the party came second in 2019 are conservative held. The number of target seats in 2019 was more than double these numbers based on the Brexit divide.

  • John Marriott 23rd Dec '21 - 9:27am

    I’m no psephologist but I reckon that, if the Lib Dems could get back to around 30 to 40 MPs they might really start to have some impact. Tristan Ward is only saying what I have been saying for years about the Coalition.

    Question: If you could return to the second decade of the 21st century, which half would you prefer to return to?

    This country is not a Liberal country. It’s 40% conservative, possibly 20% truly socialist with 40% what I would term radical/pragmatic ( which includes liberal and green ideas). This is clearly not reflected in our voting system. Until you change it, without a referendum if necessary, things will not alter a great deal.

  • David Evans 23rd Dec '21 - 9:32am

    It is sad to see the very first comment on this thread, posted within 7 minutes of the release of the article by Andy is simply a statement that he will ignore Vince because Vince reached a different conclusion on a totally different (though important) matter. I do wonder how liberal William thinks this attitude is?

  • Tristan Ward 22nd Dec ’21 – 5:29pm………….I do not remember much chaos in the coalition government. It was the last time the country had a competent and stable government………….

    Of course there wasn’t ‘much chaos’; this party slavishly followed the Tories on ever more right wing policies..From the NHS ‘reorganisation’ (which even Cameron’s government declared an expensive failure) through the bedroom tax to secret courts..
    BTW Vince Cable was a leading advocate for removal of employment rights, etc.

    The electorate gave their verdict on this party during and post coalition..Why some posters try and spin a ‘dark period’ in this party’s history as a success is beyond me..If you campaign on ‘our coalition achievements’; Vince’s “30 more seats” won’t happen..

  • The party opposed and managed to cancel a fair number of Tory initiatives during the Coalition. Read any insider’s account of those years.

    We also managed to implement some positive liberal policies.

    I was against going into Coalition with the Tories. And dismayed by serious errors made.

    But let’s not exaggerate. That government faced a grave economic crisis and in my view did better overall than contemporary governments in Spain and France, where I was living at the time.

    And let’s please move on. The rest of the electorate has.

  • I echo Chris Moore’s comments on the coalition years
    but I supported it for the reasons he gave and am reminded of one commentators appraisal of the LibDems participation in that government at that time “history will prove the importance of the Lib Dems involvement in the Coalition” or words to that affect .

  • Paul Barker 23rd Dec '21 - 6:59pm

    This seems eminently do-able to me. The 4 Polls since North Shropshire all put us up by 2% or 3% with an average total just under 12%; I expect us to get a bit more of a boost in the next few Weeks.

    I expect us to do well next May & get another small Polling boost from that. I also expect The Tories to continue downhill, at a slower rate & cling on to the last moment – giving Us more time to recover.

  • Peter Reisdorf 27th Dec '21 - 1:55pm

    Thirty or more seats is completely unrealistic. That’s the sort of number that was being talked about in the 2019 General Election campaign. What actually happened was a net loss of one. We probably need to target a much smaller number of seats, maybe 20 and including the seats we hold now. I suspect that any constituency where we aren’t working now as if a by-election is expected won’t be won in 2023 or 2024.

  • nvelope2003 27th Dec '21 - 3:13pm

    The Sunday Times poll would give Labour a majority of 27 and the Liberal Democrats would get 11 seats, the same as in 2019 and less than the 13 they hold now.
    So much for the dreams of a progressive alliance. The party blew it 2010 destroying years of work rebuilding it to get into power too soon achieving a few reforms most of which were repealed by the most right wing Conservative government we have had for decades which would never have happened if we had not formed a coalition with them which then held the 2016 referendum giving a chance to the far right.

  • I wouldn’t be so quick to knock the decision to go into coalition in 2010. Remember, the electoral arithmetic at the time made a Conservative-lead Government the only plausible option. There just weren’t the numbers of MPs to make a Labour-lead Government realistic.

    The choice the LibDems therefore had was to go into coalition, to support a minority Conservative Government on some kind of confidence-and-supply basis, or to refuse to negotiate. Refusing to negotiate would have completely undermined the LibDem case for PR and coalition Governments (how can you with a straight face argue for PR, but then refuse to support a coalition when the opportunity comes up?), and almost certainly forced another general later that year, which the Tories would have been very likely to win outright.

    With hindsight it’s clear that mistakes were made in negotiating the coalition agreement, but given the circumstances at the time, going into coalition was a sensible decision. And given that the Tories won the following election handsomely, it’s hard to argue that a Conservative-lead Government wasn’t a popular choice, even if the voters didn’t appreciate the LibDems’ role in that Government.

  • Alex Macfie 27th Dec '21 - 5:15pm

    Peter Reisdorf: Actually people in the leadership team were talking about winning 150 seats or more in a GE. We spread ourselves far too thinly. One difference between now and before 2019GE is we have a lot more second places, mostly to the Tories. Estimating Predicting results this far from a likely GE is a fool’s errand, but I tend to agree with Paul Barker’s analysis — 30 gains is likely to be achievable if current trends continue, and we target sensibly (I would fully expect us to be working all of our tartget seats as if there’s going to be a by-election there). And these are very different from the trends of last year. Remember when people were going around saying “Boris” was invincible?

    nvelope2003: I take it you mean this one:
    https://twitter.com/TSEofPB/status/1474805580065820674
    I would take the seat predictions with a pinch of salt. National opinion polls — even ones branded “MRP” — aren’t very good predictors of what happens locally. This poll is from Focaldata, the same company that produced the MRP poll from last December that bizarrely predicted that we would win just 2 seats on a 3-point drop in national support, including precipitous falls in our safest seats (by 24 points in Twickehnam, leading to a Tory gain — this would be a steeper fall than in 2015!). The company seems to have adjusted its methodology since then, but I still doubt it gives due consideration to local factors, including targeting and tactical voting.

    Simon R: It was only a small Tory majority in 2015, won partly by persuading people impressed by the Coalition to vote Tory. Lib Dems had failed to differentiate ourselves sufficiently from the Tories, so voters saw no reason at all to vote for us instead of the Tories — they decided they might as well vote for the senior Coalition partner.

  • Brad Barrows 27th Dec '21 - 5:55pm

    @Simon R
    I’m sorry but I must challenge your interpretation of the 2010 election results. The trust is that the Liberal Democrats achieved almost the perfect outcome: no party achieved an overall majority and the Liberal Democrats were in the position of sole kingmakers – if they were to stand with the Tories the two parties combined had an overall majority, but if they stood with Labour the two parties combined would have more MPs than the Tories. From that position of strength, the party should have relished being the key force in every vote in Parliament, deciding issues on a case by case basis, but blew it big time and got exactly what it deserved in 2015. The chance is unlikely to repeat for at least a generation as the SNP is now firmly in position as the 3rd party in the House of Commons. That said, if it did, it would be completely unforgivable for the Party to repeat the errors of 2010 – yet reading comments like “given the circumstances at the time, going into coalition was a sensible decision”, makes me worry that repeating the disaster of 2010 could easily happen.

  • Brad Barrows 27th Dec '21 - 5:57pm

    Sorry, typo above – second line should say ‘truth’ rather than ‘trust’.

  • I think after what we have seen over the last few weeks and the complete shambles of this government, an ineffective Prime Minister who has been castrated by his back benches and a Ministerial team who are being held to ransom for their future leadership ambitions. We need to be calling for a complete shake up of politics and changes to how our democracy works, because ay present there is a severe deficit.

    We cannot go on with a situation were a small cable of backbenchers are able to wield so much power that they can hold public health to ransom.
    Or were Ministers are so weak, that they can be held to ransom by the backbenches when it comes to future leadership challenges…

    It is the people that should hold ALL the power and is able to hold the Government and its ministers to account. It should not be in the hands of the back benches or a small cable

    Therefore we need a complete new system, where after a Party has won an election, it is the electorate as a whole who also get to decide on the Prime Minister from a pool of candidates in the Governing party…

    It should not be up to a rigged “back bench committee” to decide who the next Prime Ministerial candidates are going to be, voted in then by a minority of its membership…

    After what has been happening over the last 2 years, especially the last couple of months, never has our democracy been under so much threat and is so weak.

    If the Government and its Ministers are not able to stand up to a rabble of back benches, what hope does it have in standing up to someone like Putin or China

    Liberal Democrats need to be calling for a change, because I think after the diabolical state of the UK after the last 2 years, people will be more inclined to listen and want change

  • I think @Martin is broadly correct. Given the situation in 2010, any refusal to cooperate extensively with the Tories would have almost certainly led to another general election and a majority Conservative Government by 2011. With hindsight, the mistakes were in the details of the coalition agreement, not the principle of making the agreement.

    I really don’t understand how people can strongly believe in proportional representation – which implies that coalition governments should be welcomed as the norm, but then complain when the LibDems enter a coalition Government.

    One other point on this that worries me… Rubbishing what you did when you were in Government is really not a good way to get people to vote for you. Look at Labour and how they’ve lost the last 3 elections doing exactly that – trying to get people to vote for them, in part by saying they were rubbish under Tony Blair but now they’ve changed. It’s not an inspiring message, and it worries me that many LibDems seem intent on making exactly the same mistake.

  • Chris Moore 28th Dec '21 - 8:00am

    @Alex McAfie: you mention that people in the leadership team thought we could win 150 seats in 2019. This just shows how deluded party leadership was.

    The Remain Alliance “strategy” doomed us to at best a mediocre result. By alienating more than half the electorate in advance, we then had to win an unlikely percentage of Remain voters to get a merely very ordinary result. 15% vote share would have required about 29% of the Remain vote. That was a very steep ask, given that many Remainers were Tories and thought we should move on. Others would vote Labour, SNP etcetera.

    On individual seats, the same calculus applies. Target seats in the “golden halo” were unlikely to fall to us. In those seats all Leavers would vote against us, leaving us having to gain a heroic % of Remainers to get over the line.

    150 seats would have required a national vote share in the mid 30s. How likely is it that we could have won 70% of Remain votes?

    Btw drawing these blindingly obvious points to the attention of the party and leadership in 2019 was not a happy experience.

    But given that we are now making an effort to appeal to all liberal-minded voters, not just hard-line Remainers, our prospects at the next election are much better than in 2019.

  • Jenny Barnes 28th Dec '21 - 9:16am

    @ chris Moore ” That government faced a grave economic crisis”
    No it didn’t. Unlike Greece, which did, and which Clegg among others said was what we would turn into, we have a fiat currency under UK control, as opposed to EU control. Greece was effectively like a local authority. No money under their control, so they had to do what the Germans decided. I always thought that the Greeks giving up the Drachma was a really bad idea.

  • @SimonR. What we did in Government ‘really was not a good way to get people to vote for us.’

    As proven beyond the remotest shadow of doubt in the elections of 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. In case you don’t recall we were all but annihilated at every level (Cllrs, Devolved Parliaments, MEP’s and MP’s) in each of those successive elections and are only just beginning to claw our way back from the precipice some 6 years later.

    Just because the electoral arithmetic says that you can go into a Coalition does not mean that you have to do so -Feb 1974 being one example of just saying No. There are also other alternatives short of a full blown Coalition as seen with the Lib Lab Pact of the 1970’s, the Cons/Unionist agreement of 2017 and the current Lab/Plaid ‘Cooperation’ and the SNP/Green Cooperation.

    I would expect rational politicians to exercise rational judgement over whether the price of any such agreement is worth the costs.

  • @Joe Bourke. Yes the number of so called Target Seats in 2019 was high. But that high number plus many of the chosen seats was pure fantasy. Despite spending more money than in any GE ever before we actually achieved a net loss of seats.

    Thankfully, since 2019, we seem to have returned to a Target Seat strategy based in reality and experience of what works. Something that has been sadly lacking for much of the last decade or so. Excited fantasy based on transient Opinion Polls and wishful thinking should have no place in what we do.

  • Chris Moore 28th Dec '21 - 1:08pm

    @Jenny, as you point out the UK has its own currency.

    But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a grave economic crisis!

  • Chris Moore 28th Dec '21 - 1:21pm

    Yes, Paul, excited fantasy – 2019 – based on the totally flawed strategy of deliberately alienating over half the electorate.

  • Peter Martin 28th Dec '21 - 2:06pm

    “But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a grave economic crisis!”

    Or it could just mean that most people mistakenly thought there was.

    The 2008 crash certainly caused some problems for a lot of people. So when there is a general air of uncertainty people will do what people will do and play it ultra safe. They’ll stop taking risks. This means they will be much less inclined to borrow to make investments and they will be doing what they can to reduce their existing borrowing. In other words, they will be saving.

    So it was in the years afterwards. It was sometimes termed a ‘balance sheet recession’. This means that if everyone else is wanting to save then the Government should be wanting to let them by also wanting to borrow the money from them. If they had done that there would have been no need for a recession. A recession only ‘works’ insofar as it makes everyone poorer and therefore less able to do any saving.

  • The UK (and other developed economies) has yet to recover from the 2008 financial crisis. Larry Elliott had a good summary just before the outbreak of the pandemic It’s more than a decade since the financial crisis. Where’s the recovery?
    in which he reviews post-war economic history and concludes:
    “Would there have been a different outcome in the 2016 EU referendum had the economy performed better in the first half of the 2010s? Almost certainly. Has Brexit highlighted deep structural problems – of industrial structure, underinvestment, poor skills, geographical imbalance – that need to be addressed? Again, yes. Will Brexit be the catalyst for the economic reset the country so obviously needs? That’s a lot more questionable. One thing that has not changed down the decades is the dogged hope that there is a quick fix for all the economy’s ills, if only it can be found. There isn’t one.”
    More recently Elliott tells us that the Tories are now the “Tax-and-Spend” party Keir Starmer may be against the Tories’ tax hike, but Labour needs ideas of its own
    “Although Labour has criticised the new levy, the party has no concrete ideas of its own about how the extra spending would be funded. If the party thinks a wealth tax or higher national insurance contributions for the better off could be the solution to the Tories’ new levy, both of which would raise serious amounts of money, it has not said so. Labour does not believe in modern monetary theory (MMT), the idea that a government can spend as much as it wants, inflation permitting, provided it can print the money in its own currency. (Corbyn briefly flirted with MMT but soon went off the idea.) Nor is Labour in favour of higher national insurance contributions to fund the NHS, even though this was precisely what Brown did in his 2002 budget.
    Indeed, Starmer seems to think the way to power is to rebrand Labour as the low-tax party. Given the current state of public opinion, Johnson won’t mind that one bit.”

    It brings to mind Keynes famous quote “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is past the ocean is flat again.”

  • nvelope2003 28th Dec '21 - 6:18pm

    Simon R: It would be perfectly reasonable to refuse to enter a coalition until PR had been enacted. Once this had been done the risk of a 2010 wipeout would have been substantially reduced.

  • Brad Barrows 28th Dec '21 - 6:42pm

    The argument that supporting proportional representation requires willingness to join coalitions is completely false and is based on the view that a government must have the backing of a majority of MPs to be able to govern. I don’t agree with that view and would point to Scotland as an example of how a government can govern successfully without having the support of a majority of MSPs by forming majorities on legislation and other matters on a case by case basis. For the record, the SNP won the 2007 election, winning 48 MSPs out of 129, and governed as a minority government until 2011 when they won a majority. Then in 2016 they lost their majority despite increasing their support in the constituency vote, so governed as a minority government again. In 2021 the party gained but still fell short of a majority but this time have made an agreement with the Scottish Green Party to give it a working majority. Therefore, the SNP has been in government for just over the last 14 years but has only had a majority for just over 5 of those years. It is interesting that the Liberal Democrats decided that, as Unionists, they could not join a coalition with the SNP. No one suggested they should have done a deal with the largest party as parties that supported PR should be willing to join coalitions.

  • Peter Martin 28th Dec '21 - 6:54pm

    “The UK (and other developed economies) has yet to recover from the 2008 financial crisis.”

    So what’s the difficulty? What happened in 2008 to cause us such trouble? Was it a war, an asteroid strike, the emergence of a new virus, or maybe a huge volcanic eruption that badly affected the climate?

    If it was none of the above, then any problems are entirely self inflicted, and therefore easily correctable.

  • Mick Taylor 28th Dec '21 - 7:38pm

    PR must be the first legislation passed by the next non-Tory government (STV for preference) but this can be the prerequisite for either a supply and confidence agreement or a coalition. Once we have PR then it is likely that coalitions will become the norm and we, like any other PR supporting party should be prepared to be involved. Why are we in politics if it is not to change the world?

  • Paul Holmes,

    Seats don’t come much safer than Chesham and Amersham, or North Shropshire. Neither was a target seats. As these authors note Orpington all over again: why the North Shropshire electoral earthquake means the Liberal Democrats have turned the corner on the road back to recovery
    “with the pandemic stretching public services and a possible economic crunch likely as the cost of living spirals, the Liberal Democrats are waiting in the wings ready to exploit the government’s woes. Locally and now nationally, slowly but surely, the Liberal Democrats are re-establishing their mantle as the party voters turn to when they want to vent their disgust at the government. For its rivals, North Shropshire sends a chilling message: the Liberal Democrats are back and should be ignored at their peril.”

  • Joe -remind me how many seats we gained at the GE following Orpington? Scores was it?

    The 2 excellent by election gains this year are great news, increase our chances in serious Target Seats, have boosted our Opinion Poll ratings etc etc.

    However, like the fantastic by election gains we almost came to expect as the natural course of things over 20 years ago, they do not remotely mean we are going to gain scores of seats at the 2023/4 GE. The over optimistic dilution of serious Targetting in 2010 plus the utter fantasy of 2019, should be all the warning that is needed that we need to stick to the hard won lessons of every GE since WW2.

  • @Mick Taylor. I agree that PR should be a pre condition of entering any Coalition Government. Had we insisted on this in 2010 then even falling from 23% of the (FPTP) vote in 2020 to 8% in a 2015 PR vote, would actually have seen us more or less retain our number of MP’s. The Conservatives of course would not have agreed to this and so we should have refused to enter Coalition. Any dip in our support at a subsequent GE would likely have been like the small dip in Oct 1974 and nothing like the near annihilation of 2015.

    In a future PR system Coalitions are indeed a highly likely outcome. But that does not mean we have to enter any particular Coalition regardless of the deal on offer. You can, after all, ‘change the world’ for the worse as well as for the better and I would say that the 2010-2015 Coalition certainly changed the UK for the worse.

  • The answer Paul is that in 1964 we gained 5 seats, but lost Huddersfield West and Bolton West because the pact with the Conservatives that had allowed us to win them throughout the 50s came to an end. We did hold our sensational by-election win in Orpington.
    Just for the record we went up to 12 in 1966.
    Your point is, of course, that two swallows don’t make a summer. However, if we don’t start rebuilding the party all over the country from decades of neglect due to targeting, we will never get beyond a handful of seats. This means raising a lot of money and employing a larger professional team with a brief to rebuild the party. It doesn’t mean we should stop giving priority during GEs to the seats we are most likely to win.

  • Anthony Acton 29th Dec '21 - 2:29pm

    2 of the party’s key policies in the 2010 manifesto were achieved- massively increased personal allowances for income tax, and the Pupil Premium. But we let the Tories get the credit for the one, and failed to trumpet the success of the other (which continues to make a very big difference to schools with lots of poor kids). We now need similarly relevant policies, and surely have learnt never to trust the Tories again.

  • Paul Holmes 29th Dec '21 - 9:33pm

    @Mick Taylor. You illustrate exactly the point I was making. Our net gain in the first GE after the stunning Orpington by election victory was just 3 seats. Two years after that we were up to 12 MP’s but 4 years after that we were down to 6. The 1960/70’s were also of course a period when, far from every Constituency containing a thriving Liberal Association, many could not even field a paper candidate at General Elections and only a few hundred Cllrs were elected across the UK.

    Also of course the lack of any effective Target Seat strategy, right through to the end of the 1980’s, meant that even where big surges in national support did occur (as in 1974 or 1983) it didn’t result in big increases in MP’s elected. Unlike the record ‘Target Seat Strategy’ elections of 1997, 2001 and 2005.

  • Paul Holmes 29th Dec '21 - 9:58pm

    @Mick Taylor. I am puzzled by your reference to ‘decades of neglect due to Targeting.’ My experience of the Target Seat Strategy from the mid 1990’s was one of constant growth in activity.

    For example, in 1995 the entire East Midlands and Yorkshire Regions could produce only 3 Target Seats with Hallam and Harrogate (gained in 1997) and Chesterfield (gained in 2001) But over the next 15 years the number of serious Targets grew to around 10 with two more being won (in Leeds and Bradford) and two coming very close.

    At a different level that period also saw growth in the range of areas achieving Council success. In Derbyshire for example we saw Lib Dems share in running Derby, High Peak and Derbyshire Dales Councils and running Chesterfield with a big majority. A range of success that was unprecedented since WW2.

    The widespread collapse you blame on Targeting was actually a result of the self inflicted destruction of the Coalition Years when we lost two thirds of our Members and were destroyed in a whole range of elections across 2011,2012,2013,2014 and 2015. The centralised ‘Command and Control’ dictat adopted from 2013 plus the wild absurdities of 2019 didn’t help either.

  • @Anthony Acton: “and surely have learnt never to trust the Tories again.” Why? Did the Tories somehow betray the coalition agreement in 2010 (as opposed to the LibDems simply making a number of serious tactical errors that destroyed their own popularity)? Have the Tories proved completely untrustworthy in the various hung councils where LibDems and Tories have worked together? And…. ‘never’? Never is a very long time.

  • Anthony Acton 30th Dec '21 - 10:42am

    Hi Simon R – of course individual Conservatives can often be trusted, but I don’t think the Tories at national level should ever be trusted again in any dealings with the LibDems. On concluding the coalition agreement William Hague told his friends “I think I’ve just destroyed the Liberal Democrats”. And he had, almost.

  • Peter Martin 30th Dec '21 - 11:44am

    @ Martin,

    “Did the Tories somehow betray the coalition agreement in 2010”?

    I’m really not sure they did. You claim that the Tories had promised not to campaign on the AV issue but the agreement says:

    “We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote. In the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. We will whip both Parliamentary parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions parties will take during such a referendum.”

    So if you’d wanted a commitment for no campaigning you didn’t have it in writing.

    It looks like the Lib Dems hadn’t properly read through what they were signing.

    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-coalition-documentation

  • Peter Martin 30th Dec '21 - 11:50am

    @ Martin,

    PS You didn’t have any agreement on reforming the House of Lords either. All that was promised was “We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals”!

    Didn’t you guys watch “Yes, minister” ? 🙂

  • It is time for Starmer (and the Lib Dems’ Ed Davey) to accept reality and put the country ahead of narrow party interests. He should do what right-wing parties did in 2017 and 2019. For this election only, he should explore some sort of electoral deal or non-aggression pact with the other opposition parties whereby anti-Johnson voters in marginal Red Wall seats can unite behind Labour candidates, and those in marginal southern Blue Wall seats can unite behind Lib Dem or Green Party candidates. There are few constituencies in which it is not obvious which progressive party is the main challenger to the Tories.

    Research released by the pressure group Best for Britain on 28 November suggested that if the three parties fielded “unity candidates” in just 154 battleground constituencies in England at the next election, the Tories would fall about 40 seats short of an overall majority and be unable to form a government. Labour would gain 69 seats and the Lib Dems 22.

    Opponents of progressive alliances argue that people would resent being told how to vote and having their choice restricted, and that they would recoil from the idea of coalition government. The evidence from South West Surrey council elections suggests otherwise. Right now they would seize the chance to oust Johnson and his cronies, and reward politicians who promise collaboration in place of tribalism.

    Compass

  • Peter Martin 31st Dec '21 - 11:15am

    @ John,

    The idea of “unity candidates” is based on simple minded arithmetic and is therefore flawed. The positive for Lib Dems is that Labour voters will generally have Lib Dems as a second preference. If Labour stands down Lib Dems will benefit from ‘Labour’ votes. However, that’s not all there is to it. Disgruntled Tories will be less likely to support the Lib Dems if they are seen to be in alliance with Labour.

    However, Labour support for Lib Dems isn’t reciprocated. If the Lib Dems stand down their supporters will split roughly equally between Tory, Labour and abstain. Disgruntled Tory supporters will be even less likely to vote Labour.

    The simplest model, ie adding up all the centrist, centre right (many Lib Dems are well right of centre) , and left leaning anti Tory votes, isn’t going to be the most accurate for predicting what will happen in a real election.

  • John: I assume you mean the poll mentioned here
    https://www.bestforbritain.org/opposition_cooperation_in_a_minority_of_seats_can_remove_tories_from_power
    I would take its findings with more than a pinch of salt, as with any poll taken this far from a likely GE that tries to predict distributions of seats, especially involving hypothetical scenarios. Only 4 constituency results are published,but that for Esher & Walton shows the flaws in its methodology. Note that even polls that call themselves “MRP” cannot be assumed to take account of local factors, and this one clearly does not. It suggests that in the no-pact scenario, the Lib Dem vote share would fall from 45% to 29%. This in a seat where Labour is nowhere, and most people already know that the Lib Dems are the main challenger to the Tories. Quite simply, this is NOT going to happen unless the national Lib Dem vote collapses on a scale similar to that seen in 2015 (in which case we’d probably end up with no seats at all). The poll does not consider the tactical voting that is certain to happen naturally once the election campaign is in full swing.

  • John, so your evidence for the popularity of a progressive alliance is a single part of Surrey where there is an (almost) non aggression pact between the Lib Dems and the Farnham Residents (and maybe the Greens) on the district and county council, where Labour still fully contest the seats and you think this is a portent for future cooperation.

    I wonder if you can see a potential flaw in this?

  • Could I point out to @John that there are lots of people who – like me – tend to support the LibDems, but who regard Labour as far worse than the Tories, and would, if given a straight choice between Labour and the Tories with no LibDem option, vote Tory as the least bad option. I appreciate that we are probably a minority of LibDem supporters, but it seems a bit off the way proponents of a progressive alliance often talk as if we don’t exist at all, and just seem to presume that all LibDem supporters are happy to go along with Labour. I know it’s not intended, but kind of thing really does come across as very dismissive/arrogant towards LibDem voters.

  • I am not entirely disagreeing with you, but I don’t believe a more formal arrangement should be dismissed out of hand as it obviously has been.

    There was also forms of Progressive Alliance in other council areas and at various by elections, such as Brecon and Richmond. Oxfordshire County Council and in the Parliamentary seat of Oxford West and Abingdon are further examples. The voters did not flee from the LibDems as a result, just as they did not flee from the Tories when Farage stood down. Starmer is no longer the bogeyman figure that Corbyn represented.

    And hey presto, 30 is the magic number of target seats. How many will be lost because of useless votes piled up for other opposition parties?

  • David Evans 1st Jan '22 - 11:26am

    John so your evidence base has now extended to the Brecon and Richmond by elections, in both of which Labour stood, Oxfordshire CC where Labour stood and Oxford West and Abingdon where Labour stood.

    Do you need a bigger hint?

  • David, yes, only in council seats where there is not a full slate of candidates which is common enough, but that doesn’t cause problems.
    The Brexit Party standing down didn’t cause problems.
    Labour has not yet played ball and would need to change it’s constitution, but if they don’t get asked, there’s no possibility and the Tories will keep winning on 37%-44%

  • Alex Macfie 1st Jan '22 - 8:13pm

    @John: The Brexit Party was a Nigel Farage fan club whose supporters would do whatever he told them. LIb Dems cannot instruct our voters that way. 2019GE Tory voters seem to have been more concerned about PM Corbyn than any influence Farage might have had over the Tories. And while Starmer is not Corbyn, and does not frighten the soft-Tory horses the way the “Magic Grandpa” did, actually voting Labour remains a bridge too far for many Tory~LibDem waverers.
    In seats like Richmond Park and Oxford West & Abingdon, most Labour voters have already switched tactically, so anyone still voting Labour probably won’t ever switch.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Jan '22 - 10:05am

    The press release about this Best for Britain analysis says the following about the data source:

    This constituency-level analysis is based on a Number Cruncher Politics online poll of 12,816 UK adults, fieldwork 2nd to 17th August 2021 and further multilevel regression and post stratification (MRP) analysis by Focaldata for Best for Britain Ltd. With further analysis by Best for Britain. The work is based on current constituency boundaries because the new boundaries have not yet been published.

    Emphasis added. So it’s an old opinion poll, done at a time when the Tories were still showing a consistent poll lead of between 3 and 11 points. This particular poll does not appear in https://en.wikipedia.org, and I couldn’t find it on the Number Cruncher Politics website either
    /wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_next_United_Kingdom_general_election
    Let’s assume we have 39%:35%:9% for Con:Lab:LibDem, a rough average of poll ratings from about 4–5 months ago. The press release gives the numbers of seats with “unity candidates” for England only as 245:248:29, but no seat totals for the scenario of fully contested seats.
    A poll rating of 9% for the Lib Dems means that a fall of about 2 points across the country. As I mentioned earlier, a fall of 16 percentiles in one of the party’s top target seats (and right next to our ‘golden triangle’) is simply not a realistic scenario in this context. You don’t need to do any fancy research to see this — it just doesn’t pass the sniff test. I’ve said before that Focaldata’s MRP methodology seems highly questionable. To be fair it probably isn’t much different from other MRPs in that it seems to focus mainly on so-called “political tribes” but does not give due consideration to hyper-local factors. It therefore totally discounts the tactical voting that is already happening at a local level, instead assuming that members of a particular “tribe” will vote similarly wherever they live. This kind of analysis ends up pulling each party’s vote share in each seat towards its national average, definitely not a reflection of what actually happens in elections.

  • David Evans 2nd Jan '22 - 7:28pm

    John, No.

    There have been generation after generation of dreamers in the Lib Dems who decade after decade have tried to persuade themselves and the rest of us that Labour would somehow come over and join with us on a great Crusade to defeat the Conservatives. All that was needed was a strong enough argument to be put to them, they would change their constitution and hey presto.

    Sadly it isn’t the Labour party’s constitution that needs to change, it is the Labour party’s DNA that needs to change – their senior figures, their activists, the Trade Unionists and so on. These are not nice Social Democrats, but hard core socialists and they won’t let if happen.

    The only time it came anything like close was in the aftermath of the disastrous 1979 election and even then the social democrats had to form a separate party to do it. Those sort of senior figures are not there anymore.

    It ain’t going to happen.

  • Andrew Tampion 3rd Jan '22 - 7:12am

    Alex Macfie “@John: The Brexit Party was a Nigel Farage fan club whose supporters would do whatever he told them.”
    What is your evidence for this claim?
    This BBC news article dated 11th November 2019 states that Nigel Farage was forced to announce that the Brexit Party wouldstand aside by his own supporters. How do you explain it?
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50377396

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