The other Lib Dem-Tory talks

Facebook friends and enemies.

Until last Friday, my Facebook newsfeed had been pretty tedious. I've been a Liberal Democrat for 20 years, and most of my Facebook "friends" are in the party. They spent the election using the social networking site to vie for supremacy in pavement politics: one would update his status to "has knocked on 10,000 doors in this election", to be bettered minutes later by someone who had "knocked on 20,000".

But as coalition talks continue, the newsfeed has become a lot more interesting.

As proportional representation slips down the list of priorities put forward by Nick Clegg (behind economic stability), there is a sense of real unease among many members. "Stick to the bottom line -- implemented & genuine PR, not just some claptrap commission . . . Lib/Lab/Others is over 50 per cent of the popular vote -- not exactly shabby," goes a typical post.

"We must insist the new parliament introduces a fair voting system and a new election under new rules within a year," is the rallying call by another, pushing a demonstration at Reading Civic Centre.

These posts get plenty of "Likes". And listening in on the social network exchanges, Clegg clearly has a problem here. In an election where "Labour with 8.0m votes; LibDem with 6.3m; Labour get nearly FIVE TIMES the seats", the sense of unfairness is raw. Oddly, Clegg would have had a freer hand here if 80 Lib Dem MPs had been returned.

Scores of "Friends" are now members of competing Facebook pages backing electoral reform. "We want the Liberal Democrats to insist on Proportional Representation", has approaching 2,000 members. "Every vote counts" is also popular, as is "We want proportional representation".

As they rally to these, Lib Dems who are still hurting from the result, still looking at options they know will split either the party or its support base, are the target of Tory "friends". A thread starts in good humour, maybe with an expression of sympathy, or musing about what happens now, but soon the mood changes.

The comment thread from an MP who lost lost last Thursday is typical. One "friend" posted "Sorry for the loss of the vote", and followed up with a plea to be careful about a tie-up with the Tories. It quickly got ill-tempered, with one "friend" saying it would be "unfair and undemocratic" for Clegg to "prop up the losers"; and we're quickly back into a debate about whether Thatcher "f*cked us over good and proper".

"It's going to happen Ed. Accept political reality," hectors one of my oldest friends. "Recognise that constructive engagement on a pragmatic centre-right basis is what you've ended up with, rather than hankering after Labour and a referendum on PR that will likely be rejected by that public. Your party won't be forgiven at the polls in six months." This followed a link I'd shared to a long, moderately worded article by the academic and former staffer Richard Grayson that urged a Lib-Lab tie-up.

That kind of finger-wagging is common, and Tory friends have been most active on Lib Dems' Walls. "If they turn down a deal with the Tories and go for a Lib/Lab pact, they run the gauntlet and deserve everything they get," writes another in response to a post by former staffer: "I voted Lib Dem for a number of reasons. One of which was to keep the Tories out."

What does all this show about how a coalition decision would play out in the Lib Dems? The Facebook chatter shows that by letting PR slip further down the list of priorities, Clegg will be putting himself in hot water with the membership.

The postings from Tories also tell us a great deal. Cameron and his team have been appropriate, measured and sensible -- but beyond those Cabinet Office negotiations the Tories aren't playing so nicely.

And do we detect in the shrill tone from Tory supporters a hint that, if this deal falls through, their anger will have to turn inward?

Eduardo Reyes was vice-chair of the Student Liberal Democrats. He worked for the Liberal Democrats from 1995-98, and has been a party election agent and council candidate.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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