Lib Dem denial

You would have thought, given the severity of the Lib Dem General Election wipeout, that local activists would be in the mood for an honest accounting of how this situation came to pass.

Alas, this doesn’t appear to be the case in Cheltenham, where prominent activists are claiming that the only reason for Martin Horwood’s defeat was Tory scaremongering about the SNP. This tweet by local councillor Max Wilkinson, in response to a tweet of mine calling for honesty, is illustrative:

To be clear: I think it’s absolutely true that a contingent of right-leaning Lib Dems voted Tory this time round out of (irrational) fear of a Labour government propped up by the SNP.

But is it possible that this dynamic alone could account for the Tory triumph?

My arithmetic (which, admittedly, makes large assumptions) would suggest that this isn’t the case. To explain…

In 2010, when of course there was no SNP factor, the Tories received 21,739 votes, which could be taken as a measure of the Tories’ core vote. In 2015, the Tories received 24,790 votes, which was an increase of 3,051. Even if we take these votes off the Tory and re-allocate ALL of them to the Lib Dem, the Lib Dem is still short of the Tory by 414 votes (= 21,739 – [18,274 + 3,051]).

Yes, I’m aware that this is reductive, but the point is that the SNP factor alone doesn’t seem to explain the Lib Dem defeat.

So what other reasons might there have been for the collapse in the Lib Dem vote?

Well, one blindingly obvious reason is the MASSIVE disaffection generated by the Lib Dem-Tory coalition, which, by my reckoning, resulted in the migration of around 4000 votes to the Greens (who of course didn’t stand a candidate in 2010) and Labour (whose vote share recovered somewhat).

The conclusion?

If local Lib Dems are serious about re-establishing themselves, they need to come to terms with the fact that they lost 2015 to both the right AND the left.


2 thoughts on “Lib Dem denial

  1. I think you will find that the Greens received just under 2,700 votes in Cheltenham in 2015 – up 5% over 2010 – when they endorsed Martin Horwood and did not stand a Green candidate. As you say the share of the vote received by Labour increased by just over 2% to 7%+ compared with 2010 but you omit to mention that UKIP received just over 3,800 votes – up 5% to 7% and were also a factor in the result (possibly in suppressing the size of the Conservative majority).

    Was it fear of the SNP, big ‘national’ money from the Tories, disappointment with the LibDems broken promises in office, former Labour and Tory voters moving to UKIP – and, to be honest, a national campaign where Labour managed to convince too few people that it provided a better and more attractive alternative for government – all had an effect.

    It is no surprise that Cheltenham has moved back towards the Conservatives – this time the right of centre vote was 53% of that cast in the town. It is hard to see those voters who moved away from ‘tactical’ support for the LibDems moving back quickly or seeing a reason why they ought to. As you point out elsewhere tactical voting can, and did, provide a opportunity for the delivery of Tory led austerity.

    In the short-term electoral reform or the introduction of PR in whatever form, will not be on the agenda. The next election will be fought on FPTP and what is more on new parliamentary boundaries that will favour only one party.

    For all parties, whether LibDem, Labour or Green, gaining the support and votes of the people of the town and beyond for a progressive majority will be no easy task – how best to achieve it up for debate, how best to move the debate forward still unclear.

    • Hi Clive,

      Fair point about UKIP, who more than trebled their vote. Very important that whatever progressive bloc emerges wins over as many of these voters as possible in future elections – from the left, not the right.

      Regards achieving a progressive majority here and elsewhere, I feel so much is going to depend on the form of Labour that emerges from the ashes on the one hand, and the trade union response on the other. A shift right may be seen as the way of winning back Tory voters, but will permanently alienate the party’s core left vote, and could lead to a schism in TU support (Unite said prior to election that it would disaffiliate if Lab didn’t win the election). By contrast, a decisive shift back to its foundational social democratic principles, combined with a much more sustained and genuine effort to integrate with grassroots movements, all underpinned by TU sponsorship, has promise, imho. What are your thoughts?

      Lots to be getting on with in the meantime of course, such as the anti-austerity demo on 20th June…

      Do you know if any Chelt Labour folk are planning to go to this? I hope so.


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