Lib Dems must provide a challenge to the projected Tory landslide

May 9, 2017 1:16 PM
By Lord Rennard was the Liberal Democrats’ Director of Campaigns & Elections and then Chief Executive (1989 – 2009). in Politics Home

Former Lib Dem Director of Campaigns Lord Rennard assesses the local election results last week and looks at the likelihood of a Liberal Democrat revival in the party's former heartlands.

Last week's local election results were not the kind of triumph for the Lib Dems which the party hoped for. But they may have been rather more helpful to the party than first appeared to be the case last Friday. This is partly because they might help to address some over-optimism about our prospects in some seats. When I was a Regional Organiser for the Liberal Party 30 years ago, I remember a candidate complaining bitterly that the reason he lost was that 'I hadn't targeted his seat at the expense of all others in the region'. He had lost the previous election by 18,000 votes and it was, he claimed, my fault that he also lost this one by 18,000 votes. The party faces some similar situations now and it needs to be realistic about where we can win now and how to target extra resources effectively.

More importantly, the furious Tory efforts to downplay the scale of their successes will not hide the fact that they are heading for a certain victory. Common sense says that Theresa May would not have called this election unless she was certain of a securing a substantial victory. Last Thursday, the votes confirmed what the polls are saying in terms of who will be Prime-Minister. There is now an attempt by the Conservative campaign to say that the polls were wrong before and so cannot be relied on this time. But the truth is that the victories for Cameron, Brexit and Trump were very narrow and the polls were only narrowly wrong. Conservative poll leads in this election are a very long way beyond any margin of error. The Conservative lead over Labour makes sense because people understand why Theresa May will remain Prime-Minister when they see every day how Jeremy Corbyn's team can't provide leadership for their own party, let alone a 'coalition of chaos' that is a mathematical impossibility.

The task for Lib Dems is now to show that we can provide a challenge to the projected Tory landslide and alternative policies on the issues that most matter to people.Thatcher's Poll Tax and Blair's Iraq War show the danger of landslide victories. The danger with a landslide for the Conservatives on June 8th is that nobody will then be able to challenge an extreme 'UKIP style' form of Brexit. There will also remain in government an unwillingness to increase taxes in a fair and modest way to prevent the disintegration of our NHS and Care services. Threats will continue to the funding and future of many schools.

An election just two years after the last one very helpfully means that the constituency boundaries are the same as those last time (and the time before). With a Conservative landslide in prospect at Westminster (and the SNP trying to establish a one party separate state north of the border), people will be able to see in the course of this long campaign who the choice is between in particular seats. This time, they will feel 'safe' voting for the best constituency MP. Some of the most popular and effective Lib Dem MPs are set to return, and provide the sort of questioning that will really be needed in the House of Commons. The sort of strong local campaigns that first elected other Lib Dem MPs can also see new candidates elected where our former MPs are not standing again.

The Lib Dems have a very long way to go for the party to have the sort of presence in the House of Commons that we had previously. But there are good reasons why this election should see the first increase in our number of MPs since 2005, and the country will benefit from it.