How you emotionally respond to the question I’ve posed in the headline will have a lot to do with your politics. “Who cares?” might be one. “They’re doing pretty well given the tuition fees fiasco” might be another. “Who cares about the national polls – look at all those local by-election wins!” will paint you as a particular tranche of my readership also.
For all the talk of a resurgence of the Lib Dems – and those local by-election victories I’m starting to have to admit are impressive – and for all the talk of the Liberal Democrats inheriting Remain votes from Labour, the national poll ratings are still very low. In the most recent ICM national general election poll, one that saw Labour fall to 26 putting the Tories ahead of them by 18, the Lib Dems were stuck at 8%. In other words, exactly what the party polled at the last general election, one that saw them lose 48 seats. Why aren’t we seeing a pick up in Lib Dem polling?
The answer is probably pretty straightforward and answers several others questions regarding the Lib Dems winning all those local seats, even in areas that voted heavily to Leave. People are reconnecting with the idea of the Lib Dems as the “none of the above” choice. I think this might actually bode poorly for UKIP, particularly if they fail to gain Stoke Central, since it means that people are happy that the referendum result will go through, dislike Corbyn’s Labour, and want to vote for someone other than the governing party. In other words, they are happy to have a Lib Dem councillor, but wouldn’t consider voting for the Lib Dems at national level.
The counter argument to that is Richmond Park. Yet that was in a very heavily Remain constituency with a Brexity Tory MP standing. This means that any hope of gaining back seats lost to the Tories last time around in the West Country are completely forlorn. The Lib Dems would do better to start looking at the feasibility of targeting London seats where the sitting Labour MP voted for the Article 50 Bill, like Diane Abbott’s constituency – or Jeremy Corbyn’s for that matter.
I’m not saying Abbott or Corbyn’s seats are gettable for the Lib Dems, just to be clear – it’s just that I don’t see how they are any less attainable than say, North Devon or Camborne and Redruth. There is an upside to all of this for the Lib Dems, if the party can grab hold of the opportunity: Labour votes will be in decline across the whole of the country at the next general election. Combine that with Labour’s ill-judged approach to Brexit (being neither fish nor foul) and the Lib Dems might be able to get a fair helping of seats that currently belong to Labour. If – and this is a big if – the Lib Dems can target their resources correctly.
In conclusion, the Lib Dems poll share being about where it was at the 2015 general election is probably about right at present. That doesn’t mean it will stay that way, however. Labour is almost certain to drop further in the polls – the question is whether those people go Lib Dem or go elsewhere. At present, I don’t know.