Monday, 8 May 2017
Liberal Democrats back in the frame.
Like most Liberal Democrats I was hoping our we would make significant gains in last week's local elections. After all the augurs were good. We'd polled above 30% and come second in the Witney by-election caused by David Cameron's breaking his promise to stay on and sort out the mess he'd made, and won the Richmond Park by-election caused by Zak Goldsmith's keeping his promise to resign and re-fight the seat if the Tories approved the third runway at Heathrow. These were on top of frequent gains in numerous local government by-election, all dutifully reported on Liberal Democrat Voice.
The only way was up, or so it seemed, and the loss of 42 seats, rather than net gains was a bit of a blow. However, we've been on the fringe of politics for most of the past half-century so have become quite good at seeking consolation which belies surface appearances.
And in this case the consolation is, it seems to me, quite credible. In these elections our over-all share of the vote was 18%. This is a substantial increase on the 11% we achieved when these seats were last contested four years ago. An increase of a seven percentage points form 11 ist an increased share of 64%. Wow!
Another consoling factor is that these elections were essentially for county councils and we have never done very well in those. In fact in the '60s and '70s we often left them uncontested. Our activist were often more motivated by more local issues, derided by some as "pavement politics," and this indifference towards county council matters was shared by much of the electorate.
In fact the only time the Liberals fielded a full slate of candidates for the West Yorkshire County Council was in 1981. This also turned out to be the last time as the Conservative government abolished our county council, along with all the other Metropolitan Councils and the Greater London Council, becasue Mrs Thatcher was needled by London's Ken Livingstone didn't like the fact that most others also had substantial Labour majorities. So much for the Tory dedication to democracy.
Hence there was no election last week in the old West Yorkshire area, where we have so far successfully avoided being bullied into having a directly elected mayor. (For some reason the election of London's mayor is out of sinc with the rest and Labour's Sadiq Khan won that last year)
It is therefore not unrealistic to expect an even greater improvement in our fortunes in the coming general election. This optimism is enhanced by the fact that both Labour and the Conservatives are so far fighting poor campaigns. Both are issuing promises about this that and the other what they will do when returned to government, and routinely rubbishing the promises of the other.
I'm pretty certain few people believe any of the promises anyway and will be fed up to the back teeth of the whole patronising pantomime after anther five weeks. A turnout as low as 60% is already predicted.
So far the Liberal Democrats have fought a god campaign.
On Europe we have made it quite clear that we are totally opposed to a hard Brexit, want to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union, and want another referendum on whatever terms are achieved.
On taxation we advocate an extra 1p on all rates of income tax, ring fenced for the NHS.
Our European stance should appeal to the 48% of Remain voters,and not a few of the 52% who recognise how the promises of the leavers are unravelling. And the penny for the NHS should appeal to everybody.
Inevitably during the campaign we shall have to take positions on other issues, but if we avoid being distracted and hammer away at our two USPs we should do well.