People have asked me again and again this election campaign to make a prediction on the number of seats the Lib Dems will end up with on May 8th. I have resisted, because I just have no idea. I made a prediction a long time ago, but it no longer seems relevant. A lot of water has flown under the proverbial bridge since.
Any sane prediction, so one from outside the Clegg haters or alternatively those Lib Dems completely divorced from reality, says the party will end up with anywhere between 20 and 40 seats. Anything less than this range would be unforeseen catastrophe (even some of the safest seats would go under this scenario then) and anything over it would be a victory for the ages. So which end of the spectrum do I think it will end up at? Again, I’ll dodge the question. Honestly, I’m not objective enough to make a fair assessment. I set out once to predict the Tory-Lib marginals in the South West and gave up quickly. Lib Dems will hold them all; no, it’ll be a complete wipeout – like a child who thinks one minute they’ll be president of the universe then the next figuring they’ll end up spending the rest of eternity in their bedroom.
I can say that I think the following scenario is probably the last hope for the Lib Dems: that in the crazy, bizarre world of this election, the Lib Dems are seen as a safe pair of hands by the necessary set of voters. In other words, the Lib Dems being back in government is probably the least bad option for a lot of people in seats where voting Lib Dem can make a difference. Given either a Tory or Labour majority seems frightening (either everything is cut or we go broke), and the other options are some sort of Labour-SNP mess or even worse, a Tory-UKIP horror show, perhaps a lot of people who voted for the party the last time round will stay where they are. Weirdly, this just might actually turn out to be the case.
A lot of the haters on both left and right will no doubt respond in typically vitriolic fashion: the Lib Dems are finished, everyone’s been waiting five years to finish you off, etc. Well, maybe. But like I said, perhaps in a very uncertain electoral world, people will realise that they could end up with a lot worse than a gang of centrists in the middle of government genuinely trying to make a fist of it.
Or perhaps the haters are correct and these really are the final days. My biggest concern regarding this outcome isn’t a partisan one: it’s that liberalism itself becomes endangered, in Britain, and possibly even Europe-wide if a resulting Brexit triggers a continental crisis, even a minor one. Whatever anyone out there thinks of the Liberal Democrats, I hope at least some of you recognise what a tragedy that could be.
This is as close as I’m going to come to making a magazine/newspaper style endorsement: if you live in a seat where there’s either a sitting Lib Dem MP or a Lib Dem PPC that has a real shot at winning, at least consider the country you want to live in. After five years of immigrant bashing from both the left and right, something which saw UKIP win the Euro elections, we’ve seen that liberalism isn’t something that can be taken for granted anymore. In a lot of seats, not voting Lib Dem means you almost certainly end up with a Tory MP, or even possibly a UKIP one. Whatever you think of the last five years, please give that some thought between now and Thursday.