Why the Lib Dems did better than you think

The party is now in second place in 242 seats.

The Liberal Democrats may have won just 57 seats on Thursday, five fewer than in 2005, but the extra 850,000 votes they received still allowed them to progress elsewhere.

As UK Polling Report's Anthony Wells notes, the Lib Dems are now in second place in 242 seats, up from 188 at the last election. And the party is now within 10 per cent of the winning party in 45 seats, up from 31 in 2005.

By contrast, Labour is now in third place in 232 constituencies, up from 151 at the last election. There are large parts of the country, most notably Scotland and inner-city London, where the Tories were pushed into third place in 1997 and have struggled to win ever since. Some in Labour must now fear that it faces the same fate.

In other circumstances, the Lib Dems would be in a good position to progress at the next election, but the present situation puts them at risk. If they strike a deal with the Tories they risk alienating floating Labour voters, and if they strike a deal with Labour they risk alienating floating Conservative voters. The party may be gambling that the dividend it would gain from electoral reform will compensate for this.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.