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What would be a good night for the Liberal Democrats in the 2017 local elections?

Tim Farron's party have a favourable map and scope for gains. 

As I wrote earlier this week, even if everything in Labour’s garden were rosy, the 2017 local elections map is very testing for them. But for Britain’s other opposition party, the Liberal Democrats, the map is much better.

For a start, the Liberal Democrats come into these elections having lost 1,924 seats overall in the coalition years. The only way is up, to be frank. (Though to put the argument that Labour has reached “peak gain” in perspective – that party had equalled the Liberal Democrats’ coalition-era losses by the 2000 locals. When Ed Miliband left post as Labour leader, he had gained just 1768 council seats overall, so Labour has considerable potential for growth even to be back at its local government strength at the peak of Tony Blair’s unpopularity in 2006. But that’s a topic for another time.)

It’s not the most appetising map you could imagine for the Liberal Democrats;  that will come in 2019, when seats last contested in the nightmare years of 2011 and 2015, when they lost 750 and 488 seats respectively, will come up for election. My expectation is that far as seat gains are concerned, the Liberal Democrats will “win” the 2019 local elections.

Still, the Liberal Democrats lost 124 seats when these seats were last up, which should give you an idea of what a “good night” for them is. If they can make some or all of that back, that will add to the feeling that their opinion poll showing is underestimating their electoral standing. (My hunch, for all that it’s worth, is that the polls are underestimating the Liberal Democrats, as they tend to do with the minor parties between elections.)   

So the 100 seat gain predicted by the academics Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, and the 125 seat gain predicted by Robert Hayward, a pollster, would add credence to the idea that the “Lib Dem fightback” is considerably more than hashtag. Anything beyond that would be a great night. Anything below 80 would be a disappointing night.

That’s the numbers, what about the locations? The biggest prize for the Liberal Democrats is the West of England, where Stephen Williams, the MP for Bristol West from 2005 to 2015, is their candidate for the new mayoralty. This is the only three-way marginal of the new mayoralties, and if the Liberal Democrats win here, they will be well-placed for recovery in the region come 2020. (Equally importantly, a Liberal politician will be in office and in power alone for the first time since 1915.)

In Scotland, where unlike England their 2016 performance was of stagnation rather than revival – they did better in the constituency results but were duly punished in the lists, ending the day with the same number of seats as they started – they will hope to perform well in Edinburgh and East Dunbartonshire - the two areas they have the best hope of winning back in 2020.

In Wales, they should hope to gain in Cardiff and Ceredigion. In Powys, which contains two seats where they might hope for a revival in 2020 the picture is more complicated as the council is governed by a coalition of independents.

In the six unitary authorities up for grabs in England, they have serious prospects for gains in all of them. A good night would see them become the official opposition in five and they have a decent hope of being the largest party in the Isle of Wight. In Cornwall, where they are the largest party, they should win a majority on the council. 

In Doncaster, they are defending nothing at all. On a very good night, they would pick up three councillors.

The other big prizes for them are the county councils:  Cambridgeshire, Devon, Gloucestershire, Norfolk, Oxfordshire and Somerset are the particularly promising areas. Look, too, to the seats they lost in 2015. Gains, both in council seats there and in the popular vote, are the real gold dust. 

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

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Theresa May condemns Big Ben’s silence – but stays silent on Donald Trump’s Nazi defence


You know what it’s like when you get back from your summer holiday. You have the inbox from hell, your laundry schedule is a nightmare, you’ve put on a few pounds, and you receive the harrowing news that a loud bell will chime slightly less often.

Well, Theresa May is currently experiencing this bummer of a homecoming. Imagine it: Philip’s taking out the bins, she’s putting the third load on (carefully separating shirt dresses from leathers), she switches on Radio 4 and is suddenly struck by the cruel realisation that Big Ben’s bongs will fall silent for a few years.

It takes a while for the full extent of the atrocity to sink in. A big old clock will have to be fixed. For a bit. Its bell will not chime. But sometimes it will.

God, is there no end to this pain.

“It can’t be right,” she thinks.

Meanwhile, the President of the United States Donald Trump is busy excusing a literal Nazi rally which is so violent someone was killed. Instead of condemning the fascists, Trump insisted there was violence on both sides – causing resignations and disgust in his own administration and outrage across the world.

At first, May’s spokesperson commented that “what the President says is a matter for him” and condemned the far right, and then the PM continued in the same vein – denouncing the fascists but not directing any criticism at the President himself:

“I see no equivalence between those who profound fascists views and those who oppose them.

“I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them.”

Unlike May, other politicians here – including senior Tories – immediately explicitly criticised Trump. The Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said Trump had “turned his face to the world to defend Nazis, fascists and racists. For shame”, while justice minister Sam Gyimah said the President has lost “moral authority”.

So our Right Honourable leader, the head of Her Majesty’s Government, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, made another statement:

“Of course we want to ensure people’s safety at work but it can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years.

“And I hope that the speaker, as the chairman of the House of Commons commission, will look into this urgently so that we can ensure that we can continue to hear Big Ben through those four years.”

Nailed it. The years ahead hang in the balance, and it was her duty to speak up.

I'm a mole, innit.