I have done a few general election predictions over the past month: UKIP target seats, Green target seats, Lab-Tory marginals. I am often asked to do Lib Dem seat predictions. I have elected not to, not because I’m attempting to dodge a bullet; to avoid doing something that may cause me to advise that the Lib Dems might not do well here or there. It really isn’t that – I just don’t trust my own impartiality in such circumstances. Thus I’ve decided to do the next best thing and simply examine what the current polling tells us about key Lib Dem seats in which the Tories are the main challenger.
I’ve studied what would form the top twelve Tory targets in terms of currently Lib Dem held seats to see what it looks like. I sort of did it while peering through my own fingers draped over my face; I was worried about just how ugly the whole picture might actually look. As it happens, it’s not all that bad.
I’ll start with the really good news. In two of them, Eastbourne and Sutton & Cheam, the Lib Dems are miles ahead of the Tories. To the extent that in each of them, even if the current UKIP numbers collapsed 100% to the Conservatives, the Lib Dems would still hold the seat. I genuinely didn’t expect to see strong numbers anywhere that high up on the Tory target list (Ashcroft has the LDs up by 18 in Sutton, a whopping 21 in Eastbourne).
On the next rung down are seats where the Lib Dems are narrowly ahead, neck-in-neck, or narrowly behind. In St Ives, the Lib Dems are one point ahead; in North Cornwall, tied with the Tories; trailing the Conservatives by a point in St Austell & Newquay. Liberal Democrats can take comfort in the idea that there is likely to be an incumbency swing back to them on polling day, even a small one of which would mean all three seats were retained; the party can sweat about the fact that UKIP are polling around or over twenty percent in each place (25% in St Austell), and if any significant portion of this breaks back to the Tories, it’s curtains.
Now the really bad news. Chippenham, Cheadle and Somerton & Frome all see Tory leads over the Lib Dems of over ten percent (over twenty percent in Chippenham). In places like Solihull, Mid-Dorset, and Wells, the Tories leads are much more moderate. A four point swing compared to the last round of Ashcroft polls back to the Lib Dems from the Conservatives would be enough to hold all the seats.
We are more than three months out, so one shouldn’t take too much out of the current polling. Particularly given constituency polling can be more volatile given the smaller sample sizes. In other words it’s all to play for, anything can happen, insert your own cliché of choice here. But at least take comfort in the fact that the current situation doesn’t look nearly as apocalyptic as some would have feared things might look like round about now a few years ago.