I’ll get this out of the way first: all of the Lib Dem London activists, candidates and assorted leafletters can calm down. The facts are on my side. In the 2015 general election, the party got 8% in London; same as it did nationwide. In 2010, the party did slightly worse in the capital than the country as a whole.
The problem with this is that Britain’s one specifically liberal party should surely do better in what is arguably the most liberal city in the world. I remember being in New York with a group of American friends and having to dispel a myth that had formed for them regarding the Liberal Democrats, that being the idea that we were essentially a London only party with very few seats elsewhere (this was some time ago, when the party had more than its current share in the Commons by a significant factor). When I explained to them that this was far from the case, that the party in fact tends to do slightly worst in London than the rest of Britain, they were dumfounded. “Why do Londoners vote for a bunch of socialists?” was asked, not unreasonably.
This is, of course, the crux of the problem. Labour candidates in London don’t usually run as socialists, but rather as liberals. Sure, there’s the odd Jeremy Corbyn around but even there, the hard-left candidates tend to be a sort of Natalie Bennett “liberal” type (“Let’s have the state run everything so everyone can be totally free!”). So this is one reason why Lib Dems don’t do as well in London as you might think: everyone crowds into the liberal space. Some of this is a hangover from the Blair years, when Lib Dems ran to the left of Labour, so some Londoners see Labour as what amounts to the liberal party anyhow.
But related to this is a bigger problem for Lib Dems in London. An old Lib Dem campaigning trick is the “our candidate is more local than yours” line peddle. This doesn’t really work in London; it’s an international city, and people here care a lot less about where someone is from than in other parts of the country. So there is an irony to be taken in around this: the party can’t do as well in London because it cannot use parochialism as a weapon. I think there’s probably something in there for all Lib Dems to consider.
So to finish, I come back to those I told to calm down at the outset: it’s not really the Lib Dems fault per se, so much as the poor showings in London being down to historical factors largely out of the party’s control. But it doesn’t mean the party should be complacent in this regard. Sure, getting those southwest seats lost to the Tories in May should be one of the electoral priorities, but I think if Lib Dems are serious about rebuilding, then figuring out how to do better – and I mean, a lot better – in London is surely key.