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).
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.