One thing is pretty much certain: the Labour vote is going to go down and the Tory vote up from where they both were in the 2015 general election when the next GE comes around. It’s a matter of how much, really. Labour could go down 5% nationally – or 10%, or even more. The Tories will go up at least 5%, but could experience an even greater rise.
But how will other parties do? And how will that translate into seats? These are key questions for all parties, but particularly the Liberal Democrats, as targeting could become a key issue if they want to pick up any seats whatsoever.
Here’s a tough truth: if the Lib Dems target the constituencies they used to hold in the West, from Yeovil to North Devon to any of the Cornwall seats, they will probably not gain a single one. The reason is simple. When those seats were gained in 1997, the Tory vote had declined steeply. It’s like standing in the ocean in cement blocks; if the water level comes down below your nose, you win; if it goes above your head, your options are extremely limited. Basically the Tory tide rescinded enough back then to allow the Lib Dems to take some of those western seats. But the Conservative ocean is about to get a whole lot deeper, not shallower as compared to 2015.
The much better option for the Lib Dems in 2020 would be to target Labour seats. The problem is, there isn’t a great history there, apart from a few isolated examples, as well as not having the same level of data and people in seats not held by Lib Dem MPs recently. I can see the desire to “stick to what we know” overcoming Lib Dem HQ, meaning that Cambridge and uh, well that’s it actually becomes a Lib Dem seat again.
The other small parties have a similar problem. Labour have been so solid in most of the seats they have at the moment, it is hard to see where you start to go after them, even if you begin by accepting the idea that the national Labour vote share could crumble by 10%. There’s only one party that is really well on top of how to gain seats from Labour in 2020 at present: the Tories, of course.
Whether anyone likes it or not, for all parties other than Labour, 2020 will be about how much of the ex-Labour vote you can capture. For the Greens and Lib Dems, this is a little uncomfortable – all that talk of “progressive alliances” means that it feels much, much better for many of them to try and take seats from the Tories rather than from Labour. Add to that anger about the Tories pushing ahead with Brexit and that makes this feeling even stronger – and the need to deny that Labour really could crumble that badly becoming that much more likely to be upheld. If it’s any consolation, they should consider this: if they don’t try and get those seats, they will probably go Conservative instead. If they can figure this one out, it might clear the head a little.
paul barker says
I have to disagree. The Tories are doing well now because most voters cant yet see an alternative & Brexit hasnt happened yet. If recent shifts in opinion were to continue at the same rate then The Libdems would pass Labour next year, just as Brexit is staring to hit home. At that point lots of voters may start to see us as a real alternative & things could change very quickly.
None of that is inevitable of course but it is possible.
Tom Carter says
I think your premise is flawed. Here are some tory seats the libs can realistically target:
And a couple of labour ones:
Kate hoey’s seat.
Charlie Kennedy’s old seat?
Greens in Bristol and norwich
David Ross says
I reckon they have a decent chance of winning back St Ives. In 2015 he combined “right” vote – Tories, Ukip – was only 100 ahead of what can be described as ‘Centre-left’ of Lib Dem, Lab, Green, MK. Now I know voters don’t break down as simply as that. I use it only as a rough example. However the Tory win was almost entirely due to the collapsing Lib Dem vote, the Tory vote itself only rose by 600 from 2010. The Greens polled over 3,000, no doubt many ex-Lib Dems. If Andrew George stands again for the Lib Dems (and a continued high profile in the constituency suggests he will) then he has a strong chance of recovering a seat he’s won four times in six attempts. It needs a 2.6% Con-LD swing. He was just under 2,500 behind in 2015 and the rise from 2010-2015 for other ‘progressive’ parties was just over that amount. Set against that is a Kipper rise of 3K to be fair.
Nevertheless it shouldn’t be written off. Labour membership has surged and is now over 1,000 in a constituency with only 4,500 Labour members. Most of the new members are of the arty, reasonably well-off types with no strong working class or union link to Labour – in short the type of people who voted Lib Dem here in the past, who have no long-term commitment to Labour, and who may well return to the Lib Dems as the sheen of their new-found Corbyn enthusiasm wears off.
If we see the return of ‘vote-swapping’ which allowed George to increase his majority by 3K in 2001 & a further 1K in 2005 he has a strong chance.
This is also a socially mobile area at least as far as incomers are concerned and it’s hard to tell if intellectual arty types looking for a cheap place to live outnumber retirees or vice-versa.
But it certainly shouldn’t be written off
Richard Gadsden says
In 2005, at the Lib Dem peak against New Labour, there was that string in North London of LD or close seats (both Islingtons, Hornsey and Wood Green, Brent Central, Hampstead and Highgate), there was Manchester Withington and Gorton was close, there was Cardiff Central, Bradford West, Bristol West, Birmingham Yardley; there were other close seats in Birmingham too. There were targets in Liverpool. Warrington South. At least one other Sheffield seat beyond Nick Clegg’s. Hull West. Newcastle Central. With the exception of Warrington, all of these were city seats, not towns. There were some LD towns, but they were all taken from the Tories (Bath, Colchester, Lewes, Hereford, etc).
How many of those are still actually targetable is another question, but retaking the ones held until 2015 (like Manchester Withington, Bradford West, Hornsey and Wood Green, Birmingham Yardley, Cardiff Central) has to be a reasonable starting point. If there’s any kind of comeback in Scotland, then East Dunbartonshire and Edinburgh West are both winnable if not shredded by the boundaries. The Highland campaigns are basically self-funding, and members living there can’t be redeployed elsewhere anyway, so we might as well take a run at Caithness and Sunderland and/or Ross, Skye and Lochaber.
I expect there are some Tory-held seats that we can reasonably target – basically the urban/suburban Remain-heavy seats, like Twickenham or Cheadle.
Notice that most of these are basically middle suburbs of cities. The inner suburbs proper are usually still too Labour outside London (even Manchester only has two middle class wards in the centre; London has about dozen constituencies), while the outer suburbs are all very Tory (from a London perspective: Surrey, Berkshire, etc; from a Manchester perspective, East Cheshire, from Liverpool: Ribble Valley, South Ribble, West Lancs; from Leeds: Skipton, Selby, etc).
Although I cannot agree with your analysis – potentially winnable Labour seats are too few and far between -, you do put your finger on a very real problem. Comparisons with !983 are often made for Labour, but anti Brexit voters spread over the country could very well mirror the 1983 Liberal vote as well.
Your analysis works if you assume that the direction is more positively pro Tory than it is negativey against Corbyn’s Labour. Perhaps the honeymoon is very extended, but these are febrile times and it is unsafe to assume that in a Brexit induced economic hard times that the Conservatives can continue to defy gravity.
You refer to ‘Lib Dem HQ’ as if it is much in a position to direct proceedings, but more important with FPTP is the ground campaign. Lib Dems are only likely to win where there is where there is an established base.
Aside from this, the issue is how Lib Dems can campaign most effectively. There is very little to be gained by explicit attacks on Labour, because there will be little to add, the campaigning thrust will have to target the deepening mess into which the Conservatives are dragging the country. If Labour continue to be fainthearted and generally incapable, the Lib Dems will need to try to demonstrate a more convincing opposition. Challenging the Tories indirectly criticises Labour.