View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
25 November 2019updated 08 Jul 2021 12:22pm

The Liberal Democrats have been squeezed, but they may just bounce back

By George Grylls

Last week, political pundits took great delight in writing off the Liberal Democrats. Jo Swinson’s Question Time performance was lambasted — although many Lib Dems were simply happy to have their leader on the TV. Most percentage polls showed the party’s support crashing to the low teens. “The Liberal Democrat vote is evaporating more quickly than a small puddle of water in the Kalahari desert,” wrote Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times.

Today Chuka Umunna pressed the reset button on the faltering campaign in Watford. Rather than present themselves as challengers for government, the Liberal Democrats are now admitting the likelihood that Boris Johnson will still be in No 10 come 13 December, and are selling themselves accordingly. 

“Only we can take seats from the Tories in big numbers,” said Chuka Umunna, positioning his party as the final obstacle to a Conservative majority and a resultant hard Brexit. The new Liberal Democrat line of attack – equating Johnson to Trump – was borrowed from Labour but adapted for the ears of an internationally engaged audience. According to Umunna, Johnson is “part of the global network of authoritarian, populist, right-wing nationalists” that includes Orbán, Erdoğan, Putin, Modi and Bolsonaro as well as Trump. “Giving Johnson a majority would be a carte blanche to this type of politics in the UK,” he concluded.

This is a message designed for socially liberal Conservatives in well-heeled parts of southern England. Constituencies like St Albans, Cheltenham and Richmond Park have long been on the Lib Dem radar, but thus far the Conservative vote has proved remarkably stubborn. What has changed in recent weeks has been the weakness of Labour’s campaign. Now that the possibility of a Labour government appears to be ruled out, the Lib Dems hope that voters who are more terrified of Jeremy Corbyn than they are of a hard Brexit might feel courageous enough to put a cross next to a candidate with a yellow rosette.

Whether this strategy pans out as expected might not become clear until next week. Senior Lib Dems believe that the final ten days of the campaign will be crucial in prising these voters away from the Tories – a time when they expect Brexit to once again dominate the news agenda. And, despite the polling, there is quiet confidence that Liberal Democrat support is much more concentrated than in previous elections. In 1983, the Social Democratic Party took 14 per cent of the vote, but only won 11 seats. Were the Lib Dems to finish with a similar vote share on this occasion, as they are currently on course to do, it seems likely their returns would be much greater.

And there is another factor working in the Lib Dems’ favour. Tactical voting was in evidence earlier in the campaign in Lewes, and of all the parties, the Liberal Democrats seem likely to be the largest beneficiary of any co-ordinated attempts to unseat Tories. 

The Lib Dems can take cheer from recent statistics. Datapraxis analysis of YouGov polls showed over the weekend that, although the Conservatives were odds on for a majority, the Lib Dems were very competitive in places such as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s seat of Esher and Walton – a 56 per cent Remain constituency where the Lib Dems finished almost 25,000 votes behind the Tories in 2017. Expect CCHQ to start aiming more of their fire at the Lib Dems in response.

Content from our partners
Where do we get the money to fix the world's biggest problems? – with ONE
Labour's health reforms can put patients first
Data science can help developers design future-proof infrastructure

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU