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The Lib Dem retreat

The party will fight fewer seats on 5 May than in 2007 after struggling to find candidates.

Nick Clegg (who was interviewed by Jemima Khan for this week's issue) might be able to shrug off his party's terrible poll ratings (10 per cent in the latest YouGov poll) and insist that "there's only one poll that counts and that's the election". But he'll have more trouble explaining away the news that the Lib Dems will be fighting fewer seats in next month's local elections than they did in the 2007.

Today's Financial Times reports that the party is expected to field candidates in about 58-60 per cent of seats, against 64 per cent four years ago. The party's chief executive, Chris Fox, insists that the Lib Dems are simply concentrating resources on those seats where they are well placed to win.

He says: "This shows no trend whatsoever. We are contesting as many of the seats that matter as we ever had. Whether there are as many paper candidates – or less likely to win candidates – I don't know."

But the ConservativeHome editor, Tim Montgomerie, reveals: "We have been hearing from Conservative councillors that the Liberal Democrats are finding it incredibly hard to find candidates." In Warrington, for instance, where the party has been part of the coalition running the council for the past five years, the Lib Dems are not fielding any candidates in two wards.

The party also plans to leave uncontested wards in East Dorset, East Devon, Hambleton and Waverley. It might be time to recycle some of those "winning here" posters.