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5 March 2012

Lib Dems. The most popular politicians in the country

Local Lib Dems are faring better than their coalition cousins.

By Richard Morris

Here’s a thought to get New Statesman readers’ jaws dropping. Last week – by some distance – the most popular politicians in the country
were Lib Dems.

No Nick, not you.

But of the six local by-elections held last week, the Lib Dems won five. And these victories didn’t occur in bastions of Lib Dem
incumbency with the party holding on by the skin of its teeth. Three of them were gains, two of them from the Tories – despite the received wisdom
that says we’re going to get a bit of a pasting from the Conservatives at the next General Election and we should be concentrating our efforts on Labour.

So how, in the face of doom laden opinion polling, has this miracle come about?

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Well, dare I suggest that purist Lib Dem politicians and policies may be rather more popular than their coalition cousins?

Local Lib Dems, unencumbered by the need to explain why detailed analysis of multiple negotiated amendments to the fine print of white
papers means that they can vote in ways that appear to be the opposite of party policy or manifesto commitments, are winning. Presumably
because their constituents still rather like what Liberal Democrats
stand for.

Now, lots of you have zipped to the bottom and are already writing in the comments section that this is all nonsense. “Have you forgotten the May 2011 elections?” I hear you cry. “Local Lib Dems were not so popular then?”

This is true. But then the May round of elections tends to be an opportunity for people to express a view not only on who representsthem locally, but also their opinion of how a party is performingnationally. Draw your own conclusions.

Now this isn’t some diatribe, not-too-subtly suggesting we should pull out of the coalition. There’s too much we care about – liking raising
the income tax threshold further and faster – still to do. Like most party members, I think we’re doing a lot of good in government.

But as we enter the week of Spring Conference, let’s remember that asa party, our own policies and politicians are popular and electable. It’s
when we start propping up muddled, over complicated Conservative pieces of legislation (‘coughs, stares pointedly at the NHS Bill’) – that the trouble starts…

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.